Fans of hack-and-slash games in the Devil May Cry / Bayonetta mould don't have a particularly large library of titles to choose from on Switch, although with both of these famous franchises, plus the excellent Astral Chain and a (two-thirds dodgy) Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection port on the console, the quality of what is available is at least relatively high. Next Stage and Visual Dart's post-apocalyptic indie effort, Ultra Age, sets out to join these illustrious ranks and, apart from a few performance issues, and some woefully inept voice acting, it actually does a reasonably decent job.
Set in the far future — the year 3174 to be precise — Ultra Age tells the story of swashbuckling Dante wannabe, Age, and his robotic sidekick Helvis (think Destiny's Ghost companion on helium), as they set out on a journey to discover why communications have been cut between the Orbital Arc ship and a facility known as The Shelter, located on a now barren and dangerous planet Earth.
The story is absolute bobbins of the highest order, of course. Hard to make sense of at the best of times, it incorporates environmental issues, out of control AI, nasty scientific experiments, eternal life and lots of other stuff that you'll discover for yourself as the roughly five-hour campaign plays out. The main thrust of things however, is that Age and Helvis are on a very strict time limit of just a handful of days during which they must investigate the problem at hand and return safely to the Arc. Within seconds of landing on Earth, our heroes are in big trouble and must race to solve the mystery, fend off hordes of angry enemies and find a means of transport back to safety.
It's a decent enough setup for the action that follows but, unfortunately, Ultra Age doesn't give off the best of first impressions, and that's mainly down to the fact the voice-acting here, which you'll be treated to lots of in the opening hour or so, is almost comically bad. Helvis is an annoyingly high-pitched pain in the backside, but it's Age himself here who's the worst offender, with the majority of line readings taking entirely the wrong tone. If you can manage to roll with it, the pair do cut down on the chatter front once the story and setting have been established, but be warned: it's fairly rough going early on.
Adding to this underwhelming first impression is the fact that this Switch port has, as expected, had to dial the graphics right back to their bare minimum in order to keep the fast-paced action flowing at a playable clip — something it manages for the most part. We've watched gameplay previews of this one on PS4 and it's a very good-looking indie action game indeed. On Nintendo's console it's just 'okay'. Serviceable.
However, voice-acting and graphical downgrades aside, once you dig into the actual gameplay, Ultra Age is quite an unexpected surprise. After that underwhelming opening it manages to deliver some pretty addictive hack-and-slash action that brings plenty of neat mechanics to the table, the most important of which is your ability to change swords on the fly during battle in order to deal with different enemy types.
Across the handful of levels you'll blast through here you'll encounter various biological and cybernetic enemies who need to be fought with different types of blade for maximum damage output. As you make your way through the game you'll collect sleek katanas — strong against animals and humans — huge claymores that devastate robotic foes and a handful of other fun variants. The gunblade is a real force to be reckoned with from range, for example.
So far, so straightforward, but Ultra Age then adds various types of crystals to the mix that you'll need to drain in order to charge your swords, refill your health and collect materials for upgrades. Crystals dot battlefields and corridors in huge clusters and, once they're used up, you'll need to activate a time shift mechanic, forwarding 12 hours into the future where they'll be ready to use again. It sounds convoluted but, in practice, it's easy to get to grips with and gives the combat here a unique flow.
You'll need to get familiar with each weapon's various combos and power moves whilst ensuring you keep them charged in order to unleash their most devastating attacks, including some pretty cool "change blade" manoeuvres which see you pull off special tricks as you switch swords in the heat of battle, giving you lots of opportunity to string together fancy combinations as you blast your foes.
Alongside a dodge move that sees Age become temporarily immune to attacks, he also comes equipped with a "wire" used to drain crystals from distance, pull yourself instantly to locations and foes, or even whip smaller enemies towards you in order to keep the momentum of battles going, something you'll want to do in order to fill your critical gauge, enabling you to dish out more damage once it's been topped out and activated. You'll also find that energy crystal shards spill from defeated enemies and Age can perform a handy pulse move in order to hoover these up, giving him instant access to health refills on the fly during ferocious encounters.
On top of all of this are expansive skill trees for each sword, collectible power gears to upgrade Age's equipment and modules that add all manner of buffs to your core strength, defences, armour and so on. There's plenty going on here, in short, and the net result is an indie action game that keeps you busy and provides plenty of options when it comes to how you choose to blast into its battles.
In terms of those battles, too, there's a reasonably decent mix of enemies to get stuck into, with huge cat-like Drapoels, armoured cyborgs, airborne nuisances that fire off Gatling gun rounds, flame-wielding orbs and lots of high-powered, shielded variants of both biological and cyborg foes to boot. The game's handful of boss battles are also decently entertaining encounters that force you to make use of all of your swords and skills. There is one pretty tough difficulty spike of a boss midway through that's a pain on account of some poor checkpointing — meaning you'll need to rush a gauntlet of enemies in order to restart the fight every time you die — but, beyond that, we were pretty impressed with the scale and scope of the big face-offs we were presented with.
Being a fairly low-budget indie effort, and one that's been brought to life by just 11 people, there are, perhaps unsurprisingly, some rough edges in Ultra Age. We've mentioned the acting already, but level design can be very bland, with lots of boring corridors and a sprinkling of small open areas where bigger scraps take place. There are a few times when the camera shifts around to frame the action in different ways in a very NieR: Automata fashion, but there's no getting away from the fact that, outside of fighting, everything else here feels pretty muted.
The frame rate too, which for the most part does manage to stay very playable, does wobble every now and again. We didn't see of it much in large boss fights where we might have expected, but there were a few occasions during tight encounters with multiple robotic foes where it struggled a little bit.
However, for all of its shortcomings and insta-mute acting, Ultra Age absolutely kept us playing and kept us interested in its combat right through to its bombastic finale. There's plenty for hack-and-slash fans to dig into here then, and we're already looking forward to visiting this one again on more powerful hardware to experience its combat with all the graphical bells and whistles intact. If you're looking for a bit of budget hacking and slashing on Switch, Ultra Age is a decent shout.
Ultra Age is a solid indie hack-and-slash effort that delivers some fast-paced combat and a handful of unique mechanics to keep its battles interesting. It may have some ropey voice-acting, the graphics have predictably been dialled back on Switch and there's the occasional frame rate wobble here and there, but overall this is a surprisingly decent budget effort that's well worth taking a look at if you're hankering for some Devil May Cry-style action.