It follows the journey of Kiara, a young woman who, at the start, finds herself alone in a dark cave frustrated with her life. For three years she has been on a search for a Gift nested somewhere behind a Gate which she hopes will infuse her life with a sense of purpose. Looking over her past, Kiara notes that things were once okay but then she made a misstep and, despite her best efforts, has been falling through life ever since. Her thoughts take a dark turn just before she plunges through an underground shaft where she finds a man seated near a campfire named Vi who helpfully attended to her after the fall.
Sizing her up quickly, Vi asks if she is looking for the Gate of Gifts, to which Kiara responds “ … that obvious, huh?” She then briefly recaps for him her stumbles through life to which he responds with an expression of empathy before telling her to keep moving forward because the Gate is near. Unsurprisingly, since this is a video game, after Kira reaches the Gate and claims her Gift she finds herself in Pandora talking to an odd-looking creature that towers over her and tells her that the only way that she will be able to retain it is to journey through Pandora’s challenges.
Kiara’s gift is the ability to shoot arrows at plants and other life-forms that can speed up or reverse their life cycle. Pressing the left trigger will cause something to age while pressing the right trigger will cause something to grow younger. Early obstacles, which see you growing and de-aging the branches of trees to make platforms or clear paths, are straightforward. Other uncomplicated examples include altering the age of the rhinos to make them either vigorous and fiery — capable of charging through rocky barriers — or old, heavy, and immobile so that they can fall through breakable surfaces.
The challenge markedly ramps up when “Ageless” introduces another time mechanic as you move through a partially submerged jungle with deep pools and waterfalls. By pressing a face button on the controller, you can briefly halt time — useful for stopping projectile-throwing critters long enough to get around them. More importantly, while time is stopped you can use the energy of a close-by lifeform to dash through the air or along the ground. Assuming the object isn’t stationary (a tree, for example) you can pitch it across a distance by jumping near it, freezing time and then aiming in the opposite direction. Thus, a puzzle might see you dive into a pool of water, swim next to an orca, freeze time, and then, by aiming yourself in the opposite direction of where you’d eventually like to go, pitch the orca into an adjacent pool of water so that you can use it to swim up a waterfall.
I found the aging mechanic and the puzzles that went along with it fairly enchanting, though after playing it for two days, I’m struggling with the game’s middle section which, of course, makes for a ripe metaphor about time. (On a mechanical level one thing that slightly irks me is that there is a split-second delay after Kiara shoots an arrow which has caused me many do-overs.) At any rate, I liked that “Ageless” takes a page from Nintendo’s design philosophy by offering optional paths through stages that lead to greater challenges where Kiara can find hidden relics or golden letters that can be collected to unlock an additional secret.
“Ageless” is a challenging platformer with game mechanics that should click for those with a taste for retro platformers. Although I took to its mechanics, it may have a hard time climbing back to the top of my backlog.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.