There are three things a good fighting game needs: a smooth framerate (preferably 60 frames per second), a good combo system and balanced gameplay. Unfortunately, Steel Rivals has none of these. On the surface things look decent enough, with a hefty roster of characters and a fair few stages on which to fight, but as soon as the game starts proper, it all falls apart.
The visuals aren’t too bad, with backgrounds being nicely lit and character models being reasonably detailed, although they do look a bit glassy-eyed and unreal, not unlike the 3D visuals of those old Flash games on Newgrounds. The female cast is almost exclusively made up of pornstars though, by the looks of their massive boobs, and the male cast isn’t much better, aside from a couple of more fantastical designs. The backgrounds, however nicely lit, are completely devoid of life. There are no spectators, no wildlife, not even a hint of whether to bring life to the arenas and it basically sums up the entire game.
Sound design follows the same poor form. Its dull, lifeless tones do nothing to bring any atmosphere to proceedings, not even matching the tempo of fights. The fights themselves follow the same barren sound style of the rest of the game, with the same couple of attack sounds repeated throughout all matches. It’s insulting really, especially if you’ve paid good money for the experience, or lack thereof.
With such a lack of quality in the presentation, it should come as no surprise to find that the gameplay itself offers no rays of hope. Remember those three rules mentioned at the start of this review? Not only are they not followed, it’s not even certain the developer knew them to begin with.
Let’s start with the first one: a smooth framerate. Some of the best fighters run at 60fps, but many come in at 30fps and still bring stunning quality to the table. Steel Rivals stutters its way through every bout, its framerate barely reaching out of the teens, making combo timing almost impossible.
Which brings me to the second rule: a good combo system. Combo timing would be a big problem with Steel Rivals’ terrible framerate – if it had anything resembling decent combos. The control scheme offers just two attack buttons, though you’ll have to discover these on your own, due to a total lack of a button layout screen or even a move list in the pause menu. Moves consist of punches, kicks and weapon swipes (the majority of characters use swords or other melee weapons) but combos are usually found by furiously mashing buttons which often results in spamming the same few moves over and over.
Segueing neatly to rule three: balanced gameplay. Button mashing is a valid method of play for most fighters, no matter how much it’s frowned upon in pro circles, but Steel Rivals has created an entire game around it. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game gave everyone the ability to parry or reverse attacks, shifting the balance and offering the chance to come back from what would surely have been a humiliating defeat. Instead, the AI spam attacks to the point where it’s possible that the fighter landing the first blow will win 99% of the time. The only way to win most fights is to find a set of attacks that will prevent your opponent from ever getting a move in – it’s horrendously cheap.
It’s not as if the Training mode offers you the chance to learn to play any differently, as the move-spamming AI and aforementioned lack of move lists leads to the same frustration and button mashing as in the other two modes. Just three modes are offered in Steel Rivals, with the training joined only by a traditional Versus mode (fight the AI or another local player in a single bout) and the Tournament mode, which is nicely laid out at least. Tournaments begin with a group stage, leading into a knockout phase that leads to the last two fighters duking it out for the title and a new costume. Each fighter has one extra costume to unlock, which is the extent of the rewards available in the entire game.
When a beat ’em up ignores the basic rules of the genre, and then presents the game in the poorest fashion, it makes it impossible to recommend in any way. Especially on a console that’s home to Super Smash Bros.
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