Although Ascent of Kings, developed by Nostatic Software, has been available for a few years on other platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Xbox Live), it has only recently graced the Nintendo Wii U. It's built as a side-scrolling adventure-platformer (in the vein of Metroid or Castlevania) and uses stylized 8-bit graphics for sprites.
Although basic, there is a story to Ascent of Kings. The King has died. The next King is decided by whoever is able to make it to the throne first (if only becoming royalty was this easy). You play as the youngest of 4 siblings, starting the game out running tasks for your father - upon returning to your house you see your three brothers gifted tools to help them in their ascent to the throne; you decide that although you are much younger you would still like to take the challenge. Your father reluctantly agrees, but no longer has any powerful tools to aid you on your journey (really kicking yourself for doing your morning chores now, huh?). Then off you go, with little to no direction. An old man warns you that the path ahead is dangerous, but it wouldn't be a video game adventure if that wasn't the case, right?
Although the game uses simplified graphics with a hyper-pixelated feel, it doesn't leave the player looking at too bland of a screen. Instead of solid colours there is a texture overlay to make everything feel a little coarse. It's a nice touch to the foreground and objects found in the field, but the plain gradient blue sky background unfortunately still made the levels feel a little empty.
As you traverse the land (with a helpful map displayed on your GamePad), you encounter new enemies along the way. One aspect that Nostatic handled really well was the classic approach to teaching you new things without having to hold your hand through the ordeal. Rather than have you run a tutorial, each new challenge is introduced in a safer environment before making you truly test your skill. For example, there are red enemies that jump when you jump/move. You encounter one solo, and you learn how to get around it. A few screens later you encounter three in a row, and you need to make them move in a way that will allow you to jump across/run underneath safely.
At various points throughout the game you will encounter your brothers that had left before you. Each one is injured in his attempt to ascend, and out of respect (what good brothers) grants you the tool given to him by your father. You gain boots that allow you to double jump and more besides.
The music works well at creating an ambient noise. Without it Ascent of Kings would feel far too bland, but what does play is really noteworthy. It works to add a little spice to the game while successfully avoiding annoying the player (something that many indie games can really struggle with).
One thing that Ascent of Kings benefits from is a controller. Originally built as a mobile game, one of the main complaints on its original platforms was difficulty with control. Since it's a platformer, and many portions on the map require tight and quick controls, it's easy to understand why that would have been an issue before. The GamePad makes it feel much more responsive, and whenever you fail to nail a string of intricate jumps and glides you're not left frustrated but wanting to immediately give it another shot.
We won't beat around the bush here. The game's major shortcoming is its length (pun intended). We were able to complete the whole thing to completion in under an hour. After completing the quest, however, you can then continue playing with another goal; it's a nice little side quest that isn't completely necessary to finish the story, and sadly doesn't reward you when finished. It merely serves as a task to complete.
Full 100% completion, for us, took roughly 45 minutes. At $2 USD - at launch - it's hard to say if that's worth your time or not. Responsive controls and an old-school style of teachings (without tutorials) harkens back to the "good ol' days" of platforming on the NES. Unfortunately, Ascent of Kings can at times feel sparse, and it doesn't exactly scream replayability; that's an issue for a game that can be completed so quickly.