Another day, another game. My gaming journey through 2016 continues and I have another title in front of me to trial. Rivals of Aether is an ID@xbox game available through the Xbox Preview Program. Dan Fornace is the mind behind this classic styled beat-em up.

First impressions are good as it’s loaded up, which took about a second as the whole game is only about 180mb. I’m a sucker for retro graphics and as the pixelated start screen pings up its a plus point straight away, and although I hadn’t heard of the game until today it has the word ‘fighting’ in its description, as I have a penchant for anything ‘shooty’ or ‘fighty’ it’s another plus point. This is a side view brawler and the first and most obvious comparison is Super Smash Bros. Not just in the style of the game but in the emotions it elicits as you play. It harks back to the games of the 90’s in look, feel and sound. The music is spot on, being a great blend of catchy cheese that makes for an exciting soundtrack to your button bashing combo’s but without being too distracting or intruding. From the get go I have been pulled in by the game, ‘its general vibe’ for lack of a better description is great and all the little bits add up to create a solid all round package. It’s a little limited in some places (Preview Program situation accepted) but I think this may at least achieve cult status if not picked up by a bigger audience.

Rivals of Aether (Game Preview) (2)

Each fight takes place in an arena (in the currently available game modes, more on that later) and they too pay some homage to classic games. They are beautifully designed and many have interactive points that can act as an aid or a hindrance in the heat of battle, like a water jet to knock back your foe or a rising tide of fire to avoid. They all have a few staggered levels to bounce around on without sides, and you try to knock your opponent out of screen shot. Instead of health bars you have damage percentage which starts at 0% and goes up, the higher you get the damage, the further they get knocked with a blow and easier they are to get off the edge of the arena. The game is easy to pick up and play and it’s simplicity adds to its charm. I could easily see myself sitting down with some friends and battling it out for a few hours. It’s tense, fast paced stuff and each round is gripping. It has four player local multiplayer with a team match option in the verses mode, and you can also set it to tournament mode to create your own mini tournies for you and your friends to play.

Rivals of Aether (Game Preview)

As I like to do, I’m going to make another comparison, or rathe, two smashed together: this is Pokemon meets Street Fighter (circa 1999). It’s almost a Pokemon after dark. I imagine this is where Charizard might come to fight if he needs some quick cash, or Hitmonchans addiction got the better of him and he was forced out of the regular Poke league and started fighting on the underground circuit. Sorry, I’ve got distracted by the thought of a 18+ Pokemon show with scandal, drugs and an underground fight club. I’d watch that. Returning to Rivals and how we got to the dark depths of illegal Pokemon fights, the characters are crazy. All based around animals and elements each with a unique power. The base for their special move is one of the four classic elements: fire, air, water and Earth. They have a small number of other moves as well, simple attacks that combo in sets of three. I have two that I really like and serve as example of the crazy nature of them. Zetterburn is a Lion . . No, a Bear? A Lionbear. With a flaming mane and tail who chucks fireballs and burns things. Then there’s Kragg, a sort of armadillo/turtle who can hurl rocks pulled from the ground and summon pillars of rock up from below. They make up two of the characters from the warring civilisations in the game-world. The fighting system keeps in line with the rest of the game and is simple, a short set of tutorials is available including a character specific level to learn each of the unique moves available. I love the characters, each one is designed well with great animation and they are pretty badass.

Rivals of Aether (Game Preview) (3)

So, in a quick re-cap: cool retro graphics, awesome retro soundtrack, great character design and animation. It’s important to remember that this game is available through the Preview Program and as such is still a work in progress, so bare that in mind. Now, I’ve said a few times that the simplistic nature of the game is a plus and adds charm, which it does, however, despite there being a few moves to learn the fighting is limited. There are no big combo patterns to use and between standard attacks and special moves there are barely ten distinct attacks for each character. Any big fan of this genre who plays the likes of Tekken or Dead or Alive, or any of the other bigger fighting games of the last few years, may find the fighting a touch lacklustre. If you favour the classic arcade games of yesteryear or play Super Smash Bros. then this will be up your street. Also, despite loving the available characters, there are only eight, which in my opinion is a bit low. It could do with getting into the teens for longer playability.

I was unable to play story mode, abyss mode or do the advanced training which I will chalk up to it being in preview and they are still under development, the story mode is tipped to be like street fighter as a side-scroller which for me would add a lot to the game. The online section of the game took some time to find a match (again, a new release preview game and numbers will probably grow) however, after a few minutes of searching I found an exhibition match. I promptly had my ass handed to me three times in a row which means either I’m terrible or the level of player ability online is quite high. Personally I prefer the second option. The game had no problems connecting and so far I’ve found no bugs or suffered any crashes, which are issues you half expect in a preview game.

In conclusion, I have enjoyed Rivals of Aether and I’m sure any fan of classic fighting games will too, but it is a touch limited in its offerings at present. It is still being worked on and the coming options are sure to add to this already very fun little game. As with a lot of indie titles I don’t see this dominating most console’s for months at a time, maybe some long sessions into the night. However, it will be a great party game or filler between your big titles and favourites, and there will be some out there, perhaps converts to Xbox who miss the party games of a certain Japanese hardware producer, who may find the game they have been looking for.

Thanks to Xbox and Dan Fornace for supporting TiX