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Ultra Age

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
Developer: Visual Dart (EU), Next Stage (US)
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Ultra Age'

by Cody Medellin on April 13, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Set in the far future, Ultra Age is a 3D high-speed, sword-swinging character action title.

The PS4 has many games that emphasize fast action and high combo counts. From Devil May Cry 5 and God of War III to the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, a number of titles hit high-quality marks in the genre. Ultra Age is one of the latest titles in the genre, and while it is fascinating that it was completed by a team of only 11 people, you get the feeling that it could've used more time or personnel to get things right.

The game centers around Age, a corporate research employee, and his robot sidekick Helvis. The duo has been sent to a ravaged Earth to retrieve a relic for unknown reasons. Considering the confidential nature of the mission, Age's reward for success is eternal life, something that's quite valuable since he only has seven days left to live. Upon finding the relic, Age is attacked by one of the company's top soldiers, and he barely escapes with his life and the relic intact. With time running out, the duo must find a way off Earth to return home.

While most games in the genre have serviceable stories, the narrative in Ultra Age is jumbled. Names and terms are thrown around without any explanation. There's no reason to clarify why Age has such a limited lifespan. Major characters are barely mentioned, and their arrival prompts an apathetic response. One of the major plot twists comes out of left field, so your reaction is confusion rather than surprise. On top of that, both Helvis and Age make for a duo of unlikable heroes either due to constant whining, too many instances of silent responses, naivete, or all of the above. If there's an action game where turning off your brain becomes the only way to enjoy it, this is it.

The core gameplay loop will be familiar to genre fans. Fights are usually sectioned into decently sized areas, and multitudes of foes come after you. You can dash to and from enemies, but the dash doesn't seem to cover a large distance. You can perform light and heavy attacks, and you can send enemies into the air to juggle them. Double-jumping is a skill you'll use to chase down airborne enemies or jump across large gaps. It's fast and frantic enough that it feels like it belongs in the same category as other fast action games, but you'll wish the camera were slightly further away, so you can see more of the enemies and not get hit with blind attacks.

The real highlight is the augments to the combat system. The presence of the wire can be used in a variety of ways. Tap the button once, and you can pull an enemy toward you, like Scorpion in Mortal Kombat. Tap the button twice, and you'll pull yourself toward them, delivering damage to everyone else along the way in addition to stunning your target. You'll also be able to use it to reach higher places and dart around without taking damage, as if it were a dash. The only drawback is the fact that missed wire grabs mean leaving yourself open to a hit.

You'll rely on Helvis's presence for a few specific actions. Using energy gathered by killing enemies, you can ask him to heal you, which is something you'll do often since the only other way to regain health is via save points. Helvis can also activate critical hit time to amplify the power of all of your attacks for that duration. While it isn't something you'll be able to use constantly during boss fights unless plenty of minions are around, it is something you can take advantage of during normal fights against a multitude of foes.

The other major change is the presence of multiple swords in Ultra Age. Obtained from crystals, you'll gain things like claymores to katanas to gun blades, each of which comes with their own special abilities. Katanas can go in for one-hit kills on organic foes if you deplete the enemy's weakness meter, while the lighting sword can stun robot enemies after a few hits. Each weapon is fragile since they're made from crystals, so they will break, but you can purposefully break each weapon to unleash a special attack like multiple slashes or create a charged area of damage for a few seconds. More importantly, each sword can be switched out on the fly, so you can quickly call on the appropriate sword without using a menu. Aside from the sword variety, the game complements the combat with skill trees for the weapons. Some of them are merely stat upgrades for regular and critical hit damage, while others unlock new combos and other abilities, like sending out shrapnel from your gun blade.

There is one oddity present in the upgrade system, and that is due to the stat upgrade crystals for Age. There are numerous purple crystals to augment your stats, like armor and overall health. Most of those will decrease stats rather than increase them. Considering that there are no other downgrade items in the game, it feels like such a strange inclusion or a bug that no one bothered to fix.

There are other things that feel either like they were oversights or bad design decisions. Each time you get a new weapon, you're given the same tutorial slides, sometimes with visible code in place of controller button images. You'll automatically pick up blue crystal shards left behind by defeated enemies, but shards of other colors need to be manually obtained by holding down the Circle button. It's a nuisance when you're in the middle of a fight and need to get a specific refill. The time skip mechanic seems like a neat idea on paper, but when you realize that enemies don't have a night and day state and there are enough crystals in the world for respawning to feel useless, you'll forget about the mechanic. The lock-on system is also problematic, as the game often disengages the lock with an enemy for no reason. The lock-on button and reset camera button are also one and the same, so it's much tougher to activate the lock-on.

There are other bigger issues afoot as you continue playing. Save spots are few and far between, usually located at the spot where a load screen appears. The lack of constant save points or autosaving hurts during the few boss fights that take multiple stages to complete. The boss fights also don't take advantage of some of the nuances of combat; any weapon is good enough for every boss, with no advantages for selecting a better sword. The level design relies heavily on repetition, as you'll either go back and forth in an area multiple times or go through mazes with very similar-looking environments. For the former, that's made more tiresome when you don't encounter enemies for long stretches of time. Finally, the bestiary is quite small, as you'll run across almost all of the enemy variants around the time you fight the first boss.

The campaign runs at a decent length, and it's good enough to extend beyond an initial afternoon if you don't run afoul of cheap boss tactics. However, there isn't much incentive to keep playing once the credits roll. You don't unlock a new mode or the ability to replay the campaign with your previous upgrades. You can play at a different difficulty level, but those doing it for the Trophies will find that to be a waste since everything can be earned by playing the game on Easy. Except for the die-hard fans or speedrunners, this is a one-and-done affair.

Graphically, Ultra Age is mostly fine. The character models for yourself and enemies are decent, and the animations are good. Strangely, it falls apart during in-game cut scenes, as the lip sync is generic while your subjects stand perfectly still or perform their idle animations. Provided you're fine with the color palette reminding you of games from two generations ago, the environments are acceptable if you don't mind seeing the occasional shadow flicker and lots of detail pop-up in open areas. The game runs at a solid 60fps throughout, so that's a plus.

Unlike the graphics, the audio fares much worse. The music is serviceable, but it lacks cohesion as it tries to go for every genre rather than sticking with one or two. It also doesn't make any sense as to what plays where. For example, you can have a rock theme playing before you reach a boss fight, and a subdued song plays during the skirmish. The sound effects are decent enough, but simpler effects like footsteps play out of sync, making it sound like Age has a limp even though he walks just fine. Defeating robots is something you'll hate, as you hear a harsh buzzer sound when you defeat all of them in an area. There's nothing similar for when you defeat organic enemies, though. The worst part of the sound package has to be the voices, which fail to fit the characters and their vocal inflections are way off the mark for the situation. It's horrendous in English, but it's also pretty bad in Japanese.

Ultra Age gets the combat mostly right. While it isn't perfect, the combat system feels fluid enough that you can make a spectacle of dashing around mobs and tagging them with dazzling combos. Everything else about it feels half-baked, from the pacing to the story to the sound and pick-up system. Those who crave action may overlook these things because the combat is good enough, but those who are looking for something with better quality would be better served looking elsewhere first.

Score: 5.5/10

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