Controls not 100% responsive on mobile.
Not the best AI ever.
I think it is funny that classic gaming includes titles from the mid-90’s. I am not sure if that makes me feel old, or if the video game industry was just young. I am going with that the industry was young. Ascendancy was one of those classic titles in the heyday of PC Strategy Gaming from the mid to late 90’s along with titles like Master of Orion 1 and 2, Civilization, Alpha Centauri, and Homeworld (and the original Star Control). All of these were groundbreaking in their own ways.
I never played Ascendancy, but I always wanted to. This is where I love the retro gaming comeback and the ability of the publishers to rehash a lot of their old titles anew for the mobile platforms. Ascendancy was one of these that was re-published for the iOS on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. I played it on an iPhone 4S and 5.
The basis of the game is a real-time strategy of various alien races colonizing and/or conquering a section of a galaxy. You each have your own abilities and characteristics and can make allies or foes. You research tech, build ships, take care of your planets and colonies and try to win by taking over the most turf. It sounds pretty familiar and not so original when you explain it like that.
But this title does hold its own and is original.
You start the game by choosing the size of your star map and difficulty. If you choose the largest star map, be in for some time as it is quite large and you can dump a ton of time into one game. The cool thing is that the maps are randomly generated, or at least they appear to be. It makes for a lot of space to explore.
You also choose your race, each with their own special ability. For example, one race has the ability to research tech faster which can allow them to get a leg up on the scientific competition. There are a lot of races to choose from, each with their own back story, etc. So choosing your race the first time does require you to actually read to see who you are committing the next handful of hours to. Don’t just pick the Govorom because they have three tits.
The other option you can choose in the set-up (before I forget), is how many alien races you want to play with or against. This is a cool option. I always choose as many as possible to raise the stakes.
Once you get all of your options set, the exploration begins…
The thing I noticed right away, especially for this game being almost 20 years old, is that the art holds up very nicely. It does not look like a game from that long ago, and could have been designed for the iOS last year. I am one who likes the retro look, but this does a nice job of holding up for modern and retro gamers.
The game starts slowly, with you owning only a couple of planets, each with virtually nothing. You have no ships, no contacts, and a homeworld. I like this slower start as it allows me to get acclimated to that game, that environment, etc. But don’t mess around, this is a real time strategy game and the other races which you have not yet discovered are going to get moving, with or without you.
As you get rolling, you start building you colonies. You manage your industry, research and prosperity. The better your colonies are, the more money you have, the more colonists you have to accomplish goals and the faster you can build the things you need. You can also build (once you have them researched) ground and space defenses, which you are definitely going to want.
You also need to research, which is tracked in a tech tree, again similar to other RTS games of this generation.
Also, you will design and build ships to explore, colonize and invade other races (once you have all the necessary parts researched). This is usually something you want o try to accomplish early to get an early jump start at building up and fortifying your colonies. The ship builder is nice and almost too many options to know what they all do. But eventually you figure it out for the most part, and get some good ships out there to do your bidding.
You have to remember to leave room for colony pods or invader pods, as if you want to take over a new planet you cannot do so without those babies. It is annoying to forget and have to leave after you have taken down an enemies defenses, and then leave them to build it back up again.
Travel and battle take place on the same screens, which are a snapshot of the planets in the system you are in. Traveling in these systems is kind of confusing to start, but again, you figure it out eventually.
It’s the same with the battles. At first (if you didn’t read the instructions, which 90% of the people probably don’t), you’ll get your ass kicked, but you sort of tinker around until you blow up your first ship, as well as having your own ships strong enough to actually do something. But once you get the hang of it, it is pretty good- especially for a touch screen. More on the controls in a minute…
Having never played this when it was originally released, my review is strictly the iPhone version. Here is some nit-picking I have with this version-
The controls and instructions are intuitive. You can access the help screen along the way for reminders and this is a game that is pretty easy to pick up as you go, for the most part. But on the touch screen, I found it not 100% responsive, clicking things I did not mean to or not being able to highlight what I want. The screen options are finicky, but it isn’t the end of the world.
The AI is okay, which allows for decent replayability. Eventually, you may get where I got in the game which was that I would figure out a strategy that would pretty much allow me to dominate any game or race in the long run. So it became less fun as a challenge, and those games felt more like “passing the time.” This is not a game-killer either, but it does limit replayability for me. It just got old after a while. Turn the difficulty way up.
What would be awesome would be to have a multi player aspect to the game. Since this is turn based, you could theoretically have a handful of people playing and get notifications when it is their turn, like Words with Friends or something. You pick it up, play your turns, put it down again. That would be a very cool option and I could see this becoming a trendy MMO. It’s not a bad idea with all the popularity of Clash of Clans and the like.
All in all, I spent 5 bucks on this and it was worth it. It is a nostalgic title and will be fun and entertaining. I don’t think it will enter in your top 5 favorites of all time, but it’s worth the run-through.