It’s impossible to look at Rivals of Aether and not think of Super Smash Bros, which is appropriate given that the developer of Rivals of Aether is most known for his previous work on a Smash Bros remake . This experience helped Don Fornace create a unique fighting game in a similar style. Unfortunately, these comparisons to the Smash Bros. series act as both the greatest benefit to the game’s marketing, as well as the biggest disappointment when it comes to how little is actually on offer here.
Developer: Don Fornace
Publisher: Don Fornace
Release Date: 3/26/2017
What can I possibly say here? It’s Smash Brothers without items and only small stages. For the three of you who aren’t familiar with the franchise, the goal is to damage your opponent enough that they can more easily be knocked off the stage to their death, as that is the only way to score a kill. There are no life bars, instead a percentage meter that fills, the higher the meter, the more suscetible the player is to being killed.
The Single Player:
There’s no real story to speak of. Well, there technically is a ‘story mode’, but it is so thin that I can’t believe it was meant to be anything other than a joke by the developer. It feels incredibly phoned in, despite the amount of effort that must have taken to create the pixel images used for it. This doesn’t really matter given that the story mode (from a gameplay stance) is nothing but a serious of one on one fights that act as a training ground for the player to get a feel for six of the eight playable characters. In that regard, it works well enough.
Your standard arcade mode where the player is likely to spend their most time. You choose your character, choose up to three opponents, pick a level and fight. You can change the parameters such as number of lives and opponent difficulty. Pretty standard stuff.
Easily the game’s most fun and interesting mode is the Abyss mode, which gives you a series of challenges in quick succession. The goal is to complete as many as possible without dying. This is the mode in the game which best tests the player on all the tools he has at his or her disposal, focusing on platforming as well as combat. You are tasked with defeating multiple enemies, destroying targets, jumping on moving platforms without touching the ground. It is an incredibly addictive gameplay mode that I continually went back to.
While not something I’d normally feel it important to discuss, Rivals of Aether has a brilliant tutorial system which stretches in range from basic movement to character specific strategies. It is incredibly telling that the later tutorial levels are significantly more difficult than any challenge you will face in the games ‘Story Mode’. That’s because Rivals of Aether is a game with a low skill floor and high skill ceiling, meaning just about anyone can enjoy it on at least a simple level. If you want to have any chance at competing online, however, you will spend a lot of time in this tutorial mode. I was blown away by the depth involved, going as far as to discuss frames of movement, which is something that is rarely discussed outside of the professional fighting game circuit. Kudos to the devs on this for knowing their audience. AAA fighting game devs should be taking notes, THIS is how to make a proper fighting game tutorial.
Exactly the same as the single player… but with other people playing. Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Rivals of Aether contains both online and local multiplayer. Which I will discuss separately below.
The game’s local multiplayer is based on the previously mentioned versus mode, allowing for up to four players to fight simultaneously. There’s really nothing else to say on that.
The online mode uses peer-to-peer connections, which with the experience I had with the game made for some incredibly unstable fights with bouts of lag that created frustration. That comes down to the people I was connected with more than it does the game itself.
Due to the way the online peer to peer is setup, the game only allows you to fight one other player at a time, which is highly disappointing as it takes away the opportunity to use the game’s most appealing feature, 4 player fights. That is, unless you have a second player on your end and the opponent does as well
The game uses a ranking system to try to keep you fighting players around your skill level and from the time I spent online, it seems to work well in theory, but the lack of a community left me fighting the same few players over and over again no matter which night of the week I was playing. This brings up the question of whether or not you can fault a game for its online community being limited. Normally the answer would be no, but when your game is primarily focused on competing with other people, and there aren’t enough people for the game mode to be completely viable, it does hamper the experience.
Graphics – 15/15
The game uses highly detailed pixel art for the sprites and the animation is incredibly fluid. The ability to create custom color palettes for any of the characters was also an added bonus.
Sound – 12/15
In terms of sound, there is very little to discuss. There is no voice acting and the sound effects are incredibly simple and muted. I’d argue that they almost sound unimpactful which could be a detriment in a fighting game, where you want to feel like every hit really matters.
On the plus side, the game has a fantastic soundtrack. There were tracks that would stand up with the best of old-school, chip tune songs from the SNES era. I also got a Megaman X series vibe from a couple tracks, and even one that reminded me of the Touhou series (for those that don’t know, both are renowned for their music) so this is high praise.
Gameplay – 20/25
For the most part the game plays incredibly well. The limited character movesets makes the game about the mastery of execution and not long and cumbersome button inputs to perform combos. All eight of the fighters play differently from each other and yet feel incredibly balanced, which is the only real benefit of having such a small roster. The more characters you add the more impossible it becomes to keep things fair.
My biggest complaint with the gameplay was that the enemy A.I. Was less than sufficient at times. I had at least five battles where my opponent walked off the edge to their death without me so much as throwing a punch. This was an infrequent issue given how many battles I fought, but it is certainly worth noting.
Replayability – 5/15
My low score here is more a reflection of the percentage of players whom I feel will take advantage of the game’s true replayability, as opposed to whether or not replayability exists. The truly dedicated could drop 100s of hours into this game, and given how thoroughly I got my butt kicked online, there are very clearly players who have, but I don’t feel that will be the case for most people. Personally, I felt the game was wearing out its welcome around the 10-hour mark, which many would see as a bad thing, but I most certainly do not. $15 for 10 hours of quality entertainment is a steal in my book.
Fun Factor – 25/30
The game is built on a solid foundation that creates a fun gameplay experience that became addicting for me, at least for a while. The number of battles I had to fight to unlock just a few extra combat arenas was tedious, and the game quickly ran out of things to do besides ‘get better’.
That is a captious statement at best, however. The game had all of the components it needed to be good; that being solid controls, and well-defined mechanics.
- Beautiful Presentation both aurally and visually.
- Amazing tutorial system.
- Low Skill Floor with a high skill ceiling.
- Online combat restricted almost entirely to 1v1.
- Not a lot of content on offer.
- Even the small amount of content can feel like a grind to obtain.
Rivals of Aether is a well-developed and incredibly polished fighting game, with its only real weaknesses seeming to stem from a lack of budget. The eight-character roster and handful of battle stages that barely differ from one another hamper the experience a bit, but in terms of the actual fighting, the game is phenomenal. I don’t have anything else to say about it except if you watch the trailer and like what you see, I feel it is worth the asking price.