Steam Fighting Game Takes Risks That Super Smash Bros Won't

Steam Fighting Game Takes Risks That Super Smash Bros Won't

Confession: despite being mostly a PC guy, I adore Super Smash Bros. Now my lack of a Nintendo console isn't much of an issue.

Rivals of Aether which just launched on Steam and rocketed straight into the service's top ten best sellers — is not shy about its primary influence. It may not be wearing Mario's trademark hat and overalls (everyone is NAKED; also, animals), but everything from the feel to the aesthetic screams Smash Bros.

I mean, let's start at the character and map selection screens:

Steam Fighting Game Takes Risks That Super Smash Bros Won't
Steam Fighting Game Takes Risks That Super Smash Bros Won't

Look familiar?

Combat, meanwhile, brings with it a familiar buffet of smash attacks, specials, directional attack inputs, and light platforming — just like grandma/Sakurai used to make. Observe:

And yet, Rivals of Aether is not quite exactly a clone. After an hour with it, I would call it more of a new entry in whatever fighting/party game sub-genre Smash Bros birthed all those years ago, in that singing summer field of good vibes and better violence. It takes some risks with the established formula and adds characters that fit well within the new formula it creates. Basically, Rivals of Aether feels like a solid foundation for a more competitive-focused Smash-style game. It's not there yet, but given the direction its development is pointed, it could get there someday.

The short version? It's good! The longer version? Well, there's a reason I called you here today, atop this pile of shattered holy grails, to listen to me talk; some things in Rivals of Aether are different. For instance:

  • Ledge-grabbing has been replaced with a wall-jump mechanic (that can only be engaged after you're out of post-special fall mode). So, in theory, edge-hogging is out, or at least very different.

  • There's no shield. You can still dodge roll, but the stationary shield has been replaced by a timing-based parry manoeuvre. Time it right, and you'll slow your opponent's attack and briefly render yourself invulnerable (but still able to move).

  • There's no grabbing whatsoever. Cool with me, because I rarely grab in Smash anyway.
  • The characters (of which there are only six at the moment) are all impressively unique. So far, I can't find any Smash Bros analogues outside of really basic stuff like, "Rock Dude is big and slow while Raccoon Girl is fast but more vulnerable."
  • No L-cancelling. I didn't notice this because I was never a particularly advanced Super Smash Bros Melee player, but Steam user Cirby helpfully pointed it out. The long and short of it is that recovery after landing in Rivals of Aether is super fast — no convoluted technique required. You just hit the ground and go.

  • It's a pretty fast game in general, which I'm sure Melee fans will appreciate.

So basically, Rivals is streamlined in places where it makes sense, but the new mechanics seem like they open up a large possibility space for strategy — and they do this intentionally, rather than on accident like the Smash Bros series sometimes seems to. So far I don't love the feel or, frankly, any of the characters as much as what Smash so far, but I haven't even spent a fraction of the time with it yet.

What does all of this mean for people who've never played Super Smash Bros in any form in their entire lives? You now have access to a speedy, high-flying brawler where you try to knock people off the screen instead of emptying their health bars. The controls are, on their face, very simple, but high level play is all about mastery of surprisingly intricate techniques involving timing, movement, and positioning.

Also would you check out this whale?

Steam Fighting Game Takes Risks That Super Smash Bros Won't

That is one hell of a whale.

Now the big downside: Rivals of Aether is, at the moment, in Early Access, so it doesn't have its full character roster, level total, or mode selection. Online you can only play 1v1, and if you're playing alone there's no story mode yet. I've had decent fun with free-for-all four-person matches against the CPU (and also getting my arse handed to me online, but let's not talk about that), but I could see the fun being kinda short-lived at this point. Then again, much like Smash, Rivals of Aether feels like the sort of game that's best played against your flesh-and-blood rivals (or friends, if you have any of those). Here's hoping it gets a nice coat of polish and evolves the same kind of staying power.


Comments

    Reminds me of Furry Force: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1Dyqas6Sm8

    Seems like we'll be seeing a few of these, with Brawlhalla in beta and at least one other that slips my mind right now. Will be interesting to see how this kind of game fares on PC.

    Ledge-grabbing has been replaced with a wall-jump mechanic (that can only be engaged after you’re out of post-special fall mode). So, in theory, edge-hogging is out, or at least very different.

    There’s no shield. You can still dodge roll, but the stationary shield has been replaced by a timing-based parry manoeuvre. Time it right, and you’ll slow your opponent’s attack and briefly render yourself invulnerable (but still able to move).

    There’s no grabbing whatsoever. Cool with me, because I rarely grab in Smash anyway.

    So, from what I can see, the big selling point is that it's like Smash Bros, but doesn't have some of the core gameplay mechanics? Wall jumping is in Smash, so it's not new, neither is the 'Parry' which is in Smash as Power Shielding. I assume grabbing's not in because it'd look terrible with the sprites.

    Why would you not grab in super smash bros?

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I was a pretty casual Smash player but I grabbed all the time. Nothing funnier than grabbing someone as DK and suiciding off the side of the map when you had more lives :)

    I did my time fair and square in the 80s/90s. I shan't do this anymore.

    Ledge-grabbing has been replaced with a wall-jump mechanic (that can only be engaged after you’re out of post-special fall mode). So, in theory, edge-hogging is out, or at least very different.

    Wall jumping is in Smash already. There's no reason why you can't have both.

    There’s no shield. You can still dodge roll, but the stationary shield has been replaced by a timing-based parry manoeuvre. Time it right, and you’ll slow your opponent’s attack and briefly render yourself invulnerable (but still able to move).

    Smash has perfect shields (also sometimes called power shields) which pretty much have the same effect - it allows you a larger window to punish.

    There’s no grabbing whatsoever. Cool with me, because I rarely grab in Smash anyway.

    If you're not grabbing in Smash you're doing it wrong. There's no reason for the opponent to ever come out of shield if you don't utilise grabs.

    The characters (of which there are only six at the moment) are all impressively unique.

    A lot of characters are unique in Smash actually. In Smash 4 for example, in a cast of over 50 characters you only really have a few of what you would call clones and a few others that would be semi-clones, and the rest are all very different. I mean you have characters like Pac-Man, Duck Hunt Duo, Mega Man, Bowser Jr, Little Mac and friggin RYU in there that all demand very unique playstyles and break traditional Smash mechanics in some way.

    No L-cancelling. I didn’t notice this because I was never a particularly advanced Super Smash Bros Melee player, but Steam user Cirby helpfully pointed it out. The long and short of it is that recovery after landing in Rivals of Aether is super fast — no convoluted technique required. You just hit the ground and go.

    So basically there's no teching. Teching is hardly a convoluted technique in Smash in the first place, as all you do is press shield, or shield + a direction in the right timing window (which is actually surprisingly large, about 20 frames).

    It’s a pretty fast game in general, which I’m sure Melee fans will appreciate.

    Maybe the video doesn't do it justice but it didn't seem anywhere near as fast as Melee to me.

    I'm not saying any of these are necessarily bad things - after all it's a different game and if it was the same as Smash it wouldn't be a good thing. But to me it looks like it's ripped a lot of stuff out of Smash (not all advanced stuff either, even some basic stuff like grabs) and replaced it with not much else. Also some of these differences aren't actually differences at all becaise Smash already has them, or has something very close to them.

    Last edited 23/09/15 11:09 pm

      So basically there's no teching.

      L-canceling isn't teching. In Melee, if you pressed shield (L or R shoulder triggers) when hitting the ground after doing an Arial, the lag from landing would be reduced drastically.

    Steam do what Nintendon't.

    It's nice to see more of these sort of fighting games come out. I'm not into fighting games at all, but I have a lot of fun with Smash Bros. I like the idea of being able to come back from 200% damage and still win.

    One day I want to see someone build a Smash clone like this using indie game characters like Meat Boy or Spelunky Guy. You could call it the "Humble Indie Rumble"

    Game seems a bit lacking in charm. Mainly I noticed the lack of voice acting. Vocal call outs were a really nice touch in Smash. I like the art style though.

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