Sometimes you just need to hack and/or slash away your problems.
I love a deep, introspective narrative. A unique, cutesy art style can hook me into games I'd otherwise pass on. Complex systems that make every encounter feel like a final boss can make a repetitive game feel epic. Ultra Age does not have any of these things. What it does have is an adequate plot, art style, and combat system, and cool space swords that you use to wipe out tons and tons of robots.
What if… every trope?!
I don't want to spend a lot of time dunking on the story and worldbuilding in Ultra Age, because I found it interesting enough that it kept me engaged most of the time. The problem is that it manages to feel both generic and overwhelming. To give you an idea of what I mean, the plot for Ultra Age includes:
- Artificial Intelligence gone rogue
- Time Travel
- Crystalline Energy
- Space Travel
- Anime Swords
- Trading labor for extended time on your predetermined life-clock.
I think that's a pretty comprehensive list, but I've probably left something out. There's just a whole heck of a lot going on.
The storytelling, on the other hand, feels a bit bland. The dialog is all written okay, but it's never really great. It is 100% voice acted, including both the cutscenes and the dialog that happens between your character and his robot companion during gameplay. The voice acting didn't thrill me, though, and I found that leaving it with Japanese audio on felt more authentic.
None of the story stuff was terrible, but it wasn't what kept me playing the game at all.
Hack and Slash
Despite that big list of topics that the plot covers, Ultra Age is really a game about acrobatic, combo-centric, hack-and-slash action. Your character starts the game equipped with a big, ridiculous anime sword that you wield against robots and mutant animals. You've got a basic attack and a strong attack, which deploy different special moves on how you combo them together. To get around, you can dodge, jump, and use a nifty grappling hook to pull enemies towards you. Most encounters have you facing off against several enemies, so keep your camera locked on one to wail on while being prepared to dodge attacks from the others is essential.
As you progress through the game you'll find more and more swords to use. Each one has its own stat tree and specialties. A Katana is great against biological foes but does almost nothing to robots, while an electrical sword has a chance of stunning your enemies. By the time I finished playing Ultra Age I had six swords unlocked, and you can map four of them to the face buttons so that you can change them up constantly. This variety was nice, but outside of a few specific situations I mostly equipped a sword at the start of a fight and didn't change it up until the next one.
There's not a ton of variety to the encounters, but jumping around and wailing on enemies felt good enough to keep me fairly engaged. Most of the progression through the world of this game is fairly linear, so each fight felt like a step forward. There are a few places where you delve into what are basically small, randomized dungeons. These are great for grinding out the currency you use in the stat trees, but playing through the grind of them did start to make the combat feel a bit routine.
Upgrading Your Stuff
It probably doesn't come as any surprise to know that Ultra Age rocks some light-RPG elements. That's right, we're talking skill trees! As you play through the game you'll gather up a ton of currency that you use to buy upgrades for your sword. It's not just one skill tree, though, because you actually get a unique skill tree to spend your currency on for each sword. There are also some skill upgrades that you can buy for your robot friend. And, of course, there's also a separate, more rare currency that you use to buy upgrades for your gear, like your jet boots and space-Hookshot. Oh, and one of those upgrades unlocks more slots for modules on your weapon that give you stat boosts.
In total, this game had me balancing nine different menus of character upgrades.
That's just… it's a lot. That's a lot of upgrades to have to think about. And since this game has zero difficulty options, you will have to think about those upgrades when you come to boss fights. There are only a few of them in the game, but they represent massive spikes in difficulty that I found insurmountable without grinding for upgrades.
The Mistakes the Game Lets You Make
The most frustrating aspect of all these upgrades is the module system. You can unlock a total of six “slots” for modules that you find out in the world. Each slot is compatible with one specific type of module. When you walk up to a new module, a little pop-up shows you how your stats will change if you hold A to equip it. So, for instance, you might find an “HP I” module that you can equip into your “HP” slot in order to increase your health points by five. The reason this is frustrating is that you might find an “HP I” module when you've already got an “HP II” one equipped in that slot, and the game won’t stop you from being an idiot and replacing your better buff with the weaker one!
Why would you even make that possible?
I did this close to the end of the game, and I haven’t gotten over the emotional pain it caused me yet.
I really enjoyed the time I spent with Ultra Age. It wasn’t a phenomenal game, but the moment-to-moment action was fun and flashy enough to have a good time with it. I do wish that there were some difficulty options I could have tweaked because the spikes in the challenge at each boss fight were pretty frustrating. I actually ended up giving up on what I think is the final boss, because I just couldn’t seem to beat him. Despite the story being a weaker part of the game, I really would have liked to see how it ended.
There's a lot about Ultra Age that makes it feel like a throwback to the 360 era. I found its ridiculous story and straightforward level design refreshing, but I wish it would have eased off on the upgrade options. It’s not the most impressive game you’ll play, but if you’re in the market for an over-the-top action game you’ll find a few hours of fun here.