We begin with metal.
Metal pipes leading to a mysterious orb in the distance, metal soundtrack overlaid. We are in a stone castle, sky of swirling purple aurora visible beyond and we are here to rock.
Welcome to Savant Ascent – Remix.
In the brief intro cutscene our player character, ‘The Alchemist’, steps up to a glowing orb, pulsing with energy, and gets a fleeting moment to ponder it before it explodes. He is sent flying from the tower, left to climb his slow way back up.
Without looking anything up, that’s all the context we have.
So let’s get climbing.
Coming at us from D-Pad Studio, creators of ‘Owlboy’, is a remaster of the original ‘Savant Ascent’.
The meat and potatoes is a classic 2D twin stick bullet hell shooter. Your ability to control The Alchemist’s movements are limited; he can move between a small number of set platforms or points on the stage and you only really control how he’s getting there, jumping or rolling.
Point with the mouse to shoot at the ten million enemies who are about to come at you while trying to stay clear of whatever they are flinging back. Pretty standard stuff.
Enemies move in a predictable way, so it quickly becomes a game of memorisation and timing… almost like music in a way…
You have three lives on the standard difficulty and you will be using them often.
Because, oh yeah, this game is hard.
Following the deceptively simple tutorial things ramp up like Evel Knievel at the retirement home and the moment they introduce those fucking flying chainsaws my attempts per stage climbed about eighty percent and I was prompted to email STG about the swearword policy in these reviews.
From there stems the single most unforgivable thing about this game… unskippable cutscenes.
Fairly inoffensive in the average game, when gameplay is this fast paced and clearing a stage depends significantly on knowing what’s coming before it arrives, seeing the rocket ship filled with Ginyu Force posing shark men becomes extremely frustrating after the fourth or fifth time.
Still, that is a minor complaint in what is otherwise an excellently put together experience.
Aesthetic is the breath of life in Savant Ascent.
Part gothic, part metal album cover, part evil genius robotics lab, colour and sharp art drips from every surface.
Though the common robot enemies you have aren’t much to look at, every boss has a distinct style and flair. The Alchemist himself is a vibrant masked figure who looks like the phantom of the opera discovered the artist formerly known as Prince and never looked back.
Draped in a purple cloak with a wide brimmed hat complete with long white feather, a phantom wind at all time blows back both feather and cloak. His mask has a stylised moustache.
I’m no fashionista, but something tells me a player who was would have a great deal to say about the co-ordinated stage getup of Prince of the Opera’s drip. Even his death pose is massively dramatic. I aught to know, I saw it a lot.
After getting to our orb at the top of the tower suspiciously quickly, from it emerges a mini-me mask wearing imp who looks and acts like a masked, palate swapped Mario. A quick google tells me his name is ‘Vario’. He’s the first of the colourful bosses we are going to encounter, but far from the last.
Each has its own introduction, from the negative version of yourself to the robotic astro samurai drifting through space. Each encounter uniquely presenting new challenges to push through, and for all the times I fell, something kept me coming back.
Savant Ascent puts many of its chips on music; we literally collect disks mid stage with each quadrant you pick up giving you health and filling your weapon’s charge. Collecting all four in a stage unlocks that level’s music.
You can pause mid game to play any of the tracks you have collected so far instead of the one fitted to the current level and each is excellent.
Pulsing beats mark your moments of victory when you finally crest that hill and clear a difficult stage, creepy tones haunt you through the catacombs… the music here is worth listening to.
To wrap up, Savant Ascent is a game about style. It wants you to feel like you have jumped into a metal album cover and are rocking your way to the top in a universe where you can’t use the bathroom without encountering a robo-dinosaur or a cyber-ninja crackling with blue electricity.
So put that album on, get a comfy chair, and please keep your arms inside the vehicle; it’s time to head for the top.
Released: September 2023
Platforms reviewed: PC
Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio