Matt Thorson

TowerFall is the OUYA’s killer app: The four-player Smash Bros.-style take on archery is that good

TowerFall is the OUYA’s killer app: The four-player Smash Bros.-style take on archery is that good

I stumbled upon TowerFall at an IGN event for independent games, and the four-player title had attracted a large crowd. TowerFall is a local multiplayer game where up to four players square off on the same screen, trying to shoot arrows at each other while collecting power-ups and avoiding the fire of others. It’s fast, easy to understand, enjoyable instantly, and makes an ideal spectator sport. I fell in love after my first few rounds.

It’s also launching exclusively on the OUYA on June 25.

A reason to buy an OUYA

“I think it’s just risky to do a local four-player game these days,” TowerFall creator Matt Thorson told me when I asked if launching first on the OUYA was a risky move. The game will support the official OUYA controller, and Xbox 360 controllers. There is no online play, at least not yet.

“I'm mostly worried about the anonymity of online play, and how transient online interactions are,” Thorson explained after telling me the technical problems are fixable. “Right now the game is really meant to be played with friends in the same room.”

TowerFall erupts into a sort of divine chaos when four people play in the same room. You have to control your supply of arrows, pick your shots, grab the power-ups, pay attention to what everyone else is doing, and react accordingly.

Anyone can pick up a controller and play, the game is fun instantly, but it takes a while to learn how the game’s systems work together, and how to use them to your advantage. You’ll find yourself cheering, or howling in frustration. It’s Super Smash Bros. with a lower barrier of entry, but combat that’s just as deep.

“I didn't want any leveling up or grinding at all, because I find in multiplayer games that can lead to players just sort of ‘farming’ each other instead of playing for the fun of it,” Thorson told the Report. “I saw that as the cheap way to cultivate a metagame, whereas I wanted the game to have an interesting metagame by virtue of its mechanics.”

That being said, players will find new tactics, and a deeper level of play as they spend time with the game. For example, you can actually catch the arrows shot at you by other players, and this both saves you from dying and gives you an extra arrow in your quiver. The game never explains this tactic. “When players discover it, you see their faces kind of light up and the metagame of the group is irreversibly changed from then on,” Thorson explained.

You can also turn on a variety of options that change the way the game is played. You can make bodies explode, or slow down time. The arrows always seek out your target to a limited degree, but you can also turn on a sort of “super-seeker” option that turns the arrows into heat-seeking missiles.

“This makes it super-dangerous to peek out from cover,” Thorson said. There are also variants that make one versus one matches much more enjoyable as well; you can set it up so each player only has a single arrow, and the power-ups are symmetrical, removing any advantage given by the board.

In fact, the game is choked with content: there are 20 ways to change the rules of the matches, 70 versus maps, and 21 single-player maps. Thorson is open to the idea of releasing more content if the game takes off. The OUYA has staked its reputation on offering some kind of demo for each game, and TowerFall will offer a set amount of levels for free, with the rest of the content being unlocked after you pay for the game. The final price point is not yet set.

Still, it's an OUYA exclusive, at least for a bit. You need to have four people in the same room to see everything the game has to offer. That has to limit the audience, right?

Towerfall was entirely a labor of love. I resisted working on it a lot at first because I didn't really see how it could support itself, but it's just too fun to make,” Thorson said. “I did contract work at the same time to cover my living costs, and the deal with Ouya has helped with funding a lot. I should be able to break even and keep making games even if it bombs.”

Let's hope that doesn't happen, this is a special one.