A game where you control the ages of animals and plants in the world around you is intriguing. Especially when your avatar can shift into an “ageless” state to take advantage of that energy. In theory, it has a lot of potential, and it mostly works in practice too! The problem is, the execution isn’t always great.
Ageless follows a woman named Kiara. She’s felt stagnant and trapped, and believes that finding a “gate” and gaining a “power” will be the push needed to give her meaning and purpose. The game picks up right as she comes across Vi, someone else who found the gate to Pandora and received a gift, confirms it is possible. She heads through the gate and discovers her new ability lets her advance or decrease the age of living things around her. But now that she has the power she wanted, she might find that it doesn’t immediately solve her problems. Rather, it can lead to more.
If you’re looking at Ageless and thinking it looks like Celeste and maybe even sounds like it gets deep and personal in the same way, well, you’re right. It is impossible to look at and talk about it without thinking of the Matt Makes Games title. Both are introspective platformers that can get very challenging. There are even the optional, hidden items to collect if you’re willing to take risks and test your skill. (They’re relics here, rather than strawberries.) The difference is in the execution.
Ageless is very focused on Kiara’s powers and using them to solve puzzles. Creatures behave differently at different stages of their life. An early example is how a rhino-like creature will be curious as a baby, aggressive as a teen, and fat and sedentary as an adult. Each stage offers a different sort of use when solving puzzles. Plants can make better platforms as they grow, but be passed when made younger.
For the most part, it handles the concept really well. Whenever you are in a level that doesn’t require Kiara to constantly keep moving to survive, Ageless gives you the time needed to work out the solutions to puzzles and learn how to properly jump your way through areas. Since getting the right angle with the analog stick to properly hit your targets with your aging and de-aging arrows can be tricky and require the utmost precision, it can work out pretty well for the most part.
I say for the most part, because there are areas where it might feel like Ageless doesn’t really play fair. The first boss fight in Pandora is the best example. It comes right after you’ve spent time learning to use the gift and amps up the difficulty. While the first few screens aren’t too difficult and involve basic jumps, arrow-aiming, and being “ageless,” it can quickly become unmanageable as the being upset about Kiara’s acquising begins the chase. Since there are no save points and the Switch can be more finicky, I felt like it was the sort of sequence where it was designed with a certain sort of control scheme in mind. To be fair, that first boss was honestly the one that gave me the most trouble. But in general, it sometimes felt like some puzzles and bosses were a bit more or less difficult than others.
Ageless is a game that I wanted to like more than I did. I wanted to play around with its world and mechanics. Sometimes, it let me. But more often than not, it would turn into the sort of game where being off by a single pixel could result in a mistake that would be easy to repeat and force you to deal with a chain of events until muscle memory would maybe, hopefully take over. (Though, given I played on a Switch with Joy-Con drift issues, that was unlikely.) It is definitely novel and the sort of Celeste-like folks might dig, but it could use some accessibility adjustments and balancing.
Ageless is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.