Pokemon meets classic Smash Bros. in this nostalgia-fueled brawler.
**Note: this review is based on current Xbox Game Preview version of Rivals of Aether. For that reason, consider critiques and the final score provisional.**
Running down the stairs in your pajamas, blowing in a worn out cartridge, giving your friend the wonky controller. These are the feelings of nostalgia developer Dan Fornace wants to remind players of when they pick up Rivals of Aether.
From the retro graphics to the character and stage design, Rivals of Aether is an overflowing tribute to Super Smash Bros. 64. It’s not rip-off or a hack job — it’s a genuine tribute. And a damn good one, too.
Aether is designed to be an approachable fighting game that has hidden layers of complexity. It’s as casual and competitive as the people playing it, and that’s a good thing. The tutorial will teach you the intricacies to parries and dodges, but they aren’t vital to your success until you venture into online play. This slow introduction means you can master the basic move set before upping the difficulty when you feel ready.
You’ll find yourself returning to the tutorials and practice modes often as each of the game’s eight characters have their own fighting style and specials that make them unique. Many of the characters are designed around real-world elements like earth, water and fire. One of my personal favorites is the water-type, Orcane, who can create puddles on one part of the map and later teleport back should he be thrown from the stage. The fire-type, Zetterburn, is a lion with a fiery mane. His attacks have lasting burn damage that sets him apart from the Rivals.
What sets Aether apart from the franchise that inspired it is its absence of items. Instead of pick ups, players can use various environmental traps and gimmicks to quickly dispose of opponents. In some ways, this makes the game more approachable from a control standpoint, but I also felt it made combat feel more predictable. Once you master the eight stages, you know what to throw enemies into and what to avoid.
The lack of items certainly makes matches feel more balanced and competitive, but I admittedly missed Smash’s random pick ups that could totally turn a fight on its head.
In its current state as an Xbox One Game Preview title, Rivals of Aether offers four player (or AI) offline versus or 1 V 1 matches online. Like any fighter, offline matches with friends are a blast. Online play offered occasional thrills, but it does hinge entirely on lag — something I experienced semi-frequently.
As you’d expect, sound effects and music are decidedly reminiscent of now-retro ‘90s fighters. The battle songs all match the current stage and punches, kicks and elemental attacks have different audio cues that let you know if an attack connected or missed.
Rivals of Aether has areas where it can improve. The online multiplayer suffers from lag and is currently limited to 1 V 1. The combat is fast and fluid, but the controls don’t always feel as responsive as they should be for a competitive fighter. I’d also like to see D-pad movement support in the future.
If you didn’t like Super Smash Bros. 64, there’s nothing in Rivals that will win you over. Besides the lack of items, Rivals of Aether is absolutely a spiritual successor to Nintendo’s fighter.
After my first matches, I felt a special connection to Rivals of Aether. Playing the game put a smile on my face and made me painfully nostalgic. There were days in the past week where I had a hard time motivating myself to play the game only because it made me miss the countless hours I spent with my brother huddled around a tiny TV in our basement.
While Dan Fornace’s game could use a little more polish and refinement as development continues, Rivals of Aether will remind you why you fell in love with fighter genre in the first place.
Rivals of Aether Game Preview was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Dan Fornace.
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