I’ve played a wide variety of games and one of the types of games I feel like has been grossly underutilized is the platform brawler. The most popular being Super Smash Bros., this type of game is nearly always fun to play with some friends or even random people online. In short, if Smash Bros. and Rivals of Aether wer made on the same budget and the same scale, I’d argue Rivals is better. Now, I don’t want to spend the whole time comparing these games, but I hope to explain my opinion over the course of this review.
Let’s get the looks and sounds out of the way first. For looks, Rivals’ pixelated stages and characters are pleasing to the eye and helps the game carve out it’s own feel. These pixelated assets are coupled with sound effects that perfectly match each animation and stage effect. The music throughout the game, provided by flashygoodness, is very fun to listen to and makes each stage feel even more unique and interesting.
Speaking of stages, one of the first things I noticed about Rivals is the varied and different stages. The stages in this game are all sorts of shapes and sizes with design and music that create a distinct feeling in each of the game’s 7 current stages. I say there’s 7, but in fact, there are 14 stages. This is because each stage has two forms, Basic and Aether. The Basic version of each stage are static and designed to have the least moving parts. Basic stages are always used online and help to make each fight feel more about skill and not stage gimmicks. On the other hand, the Aether version of each stage adds something to the original Basic variation. These changes include slightly different stage boundaries, new (sometimes moving) platforms, and stage gimmicks. These gimmicks include hydrants that shoot water into the sky when hit, books that add ‘laws’ to the stage that change players’ strategies, and a giant rival-eating plant that can be used to quickly dispatch enemy rivals.
Even if there aren’t any rivals that can survive the rival-eating plant, that doesn’t mean any of the rivals are pushovers. There may be few of them, but each one is a completely unique and separate character with their own strengths. Currently, we don’t know much about the lore of Rivals of Aether, but we do know that there are some warring civilizations using the power of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth to fight. Since there are 8 rivals, this means there are 2 from each element. These rivals include Forsburn and Zetterburn, representing Fire, Orcane and Etalus, representing Water, Wrastor and Absa, representing Wind, and Maypul and Kragg, representing Earth. Each of these characters’ design and move set compliments the element they represent. For example, Forsburn uses smoke while Zetterburn uses fire. Even though both these rivals come from Fire, they use their individual attributes differently. One of the best examples has to be that Forsburn uses his smoke to confuse his opponent and deceive them by hiding behind the clouds he can create. Although Zetterburn comes from the same element as Forsburn, Zetterburn uses his fire powers to keep the pressure on and be very aggressive.
These differences in move sets and special powers does change how each rival is played without changing too much of the basic gameplay. All 8 characters have access to dashing, parrying, dodging, double jumping, normal, strong, and special attacks. There are other techniques and mechanics but you can learn these on your own. While some characters change the aspects of some of these techniques, such as Wrastor the bird having a quad jump and being able to only charge strong attacks in the air, it’s usually because their character makes more sense with these changes. Without being as specific, I feel I should point out that all the gameplay is quick, accurate, and extremely responsive. On the slightly more specific side, Rivals includes special attacks that act as ways to get back on the stage when knocked off or edge guarding so your opponent can’t get back themselves. One (truly unique) example would be Kragg and his ability to create a stone pillar underneath himself from anywhere on the stage. Each character has a move like this and all of them can be learned or perfected in one of the game’s several modes.
Rivals doesn’t have that many different modes right now, but the modes it does have all have their own uses and reasons to play them. To quickly cover each mode, we have some solo modes such as the games in-depth Tutorial, the Practice mode (used to see hit boxes, slow down gameplay, and try out combos), and the individual character Tutorials. These Tutorials help players to find a few character specific techniques that casual players may not know about or find on their own. There’s also a few multiplayer modes. These modes include Local, to fight players and computers on the same console, Online Exhibition, to fight other players in 1v1’s online for fun, and Online Ranked, to 1v1 other online players to figure out how you stack up against other players. These modes are fun and all, even if I do wish 4 player online multiplayer was available.
Even if Rivals doesn’t have a huge number of characters, stages, or game modes, what it does have is more than enough to keep any platform brawler fan busy for hours and hours on end. I’ve managed to put nearly 20 hours into the game as of writing this and I see no sign of stopping! The online multiplayer does have a issue with ping with random people, but it’s not hurt my experience nearly as bad as individual players being sore sports. I want to remind any readers that this review is for the version of the game 0.14.3 and may not reflect any future versions if I don’t manage to update this review for any reason. Currently, if the game simply had a few more ways to change how players experience the game, it would make a huge difference and may make the game as great as it can be.
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