Title: Rivals of Aether
Platform: Xbox One, Windows, Steam

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Fighting
Players: Single player, Local Vs 1-4, Online Vs 1-4

Written by Bad Demoman 29th September 2015

As some of you may know, I'm a massive fan of Smash Bros. I've played every iteration of it and I've even entered a couple tournaments and done absolutely horrendously. Unfortunately, as popular as it is with the competitive crowd, Smash isn't a game that tailors itself to that particular scene. Sakurai seemed to take downright offence to the idea of competitive smash in Brawl with the addition of things like tripping. Smash 4 has since appeased this need to an extent, with balance changes being implemented through patches. Dan Fornace's Rivals of the Aether, however, was designed with this competitive element in mind. Will it Smash the competition, or get knocked out by it’s established predecessor?

Inspired by Smash itself, Rivals of the Aether does a lot of things that Smash wouldn't. As a Ganondorf player, I understand that the fact that all the playable characters in Smash 4 are established Nintendo characters, with attributes they need to stick by. Ganondorf, for example, makes sense as a heavy hard hitter with little in the way of mobility, but this limits him very much so. Aether  has no such obligations. Most of the characters have mechanics and moves that you don't really see much like in Smash. Kragg really doesn't conform to any of the conventions you'd expect from a Smash character - Kragg is the heaviest character in the game, but he has great recovery and a very similar move with similar properties to one Sonic has in Smash.  This is because characters kits and in particular their recovery options just seem a whole lot more inventive in Rivals, and have more uses. Kraggs recovery spawns a pillar from the bottom of the screen to his current position, giving him a platform anywhere he wants. Even off the stage. Not only can this be used for recovery, but it can be used to block an opponent from reaching the stage, bring someone on the ground up to you and generally confuse and control your opponent’s position as you please.


Every character has a unique way to play and no two characters feel similar at all. Very few of the characters are even analogous to ones in Smash (with the slight exception of Zetterburn, who seems heavily based on Wolf). Maypul has the ability to mark an enemy, changing the properties of some of her attacks, while Orcane can lay puddles around the map in order to enhance the properties of his attacks, giving them extended range and increased power or to teleport to. Both of these leave you with an interesting choice – Maypul and Orcane have extremely strong recoveries, but only when they have their own respective special abilities on the map. Do you stun someone with a mark on them as Maypul for some extra damage, or lasso yourself to them to get back on the stage? Do you boost a move to attempt a kill with Orcane, potentially leaving you no way to get back on the stage? It enforces a thoughtful and planned out approach to what you'll do next, while in Smash sometimes it seems to be a matter of learning what your characters best move is and executing it well.

While execution is still essential in Aether, it's less of a chore than Smash. In execution heavy Smash games like Melee, you'll need to master a multitude of difficult techniques like L-Cancelling and Wavedashing to even stand a chance against experienced players. Even in the less execution-heavy Smash 4, you'll have some techniques. While Wavedashing is present in Aether, it's a whole lot more forgiving and not as essential to learn in Rivals of the Aether. L-Cancelling isn't present at all. This leads to a smooth experience that doesn't feel bogged down by not understanding some complicated and vague systems that are never fully explained in game. Since there’s no need to spend hours practicing each technique, you can simply get into playing the game!


Unfortunately, Smash has the benefit of a massive roster to select from. Some may see this as a positive as you don't have to learn what a ton of characters do. Aether can feel slightly repetitive and limited by its diminutive six character roster though. It's been confirmed that two more characters will be entering the roster, and in all fairness the characters feel unique and well designed enough that this isn't too much of a problem. It lets you focus on learning a small handful of characters and learning the game itself much more. The unique design leads to a bunch of characters that are a hell of a lot of fun to play, since they all have clear objectives and ways that you’ll use their abilities to best your foes. I found myself, after a few hours of playing, enjoying every single character and playing them pretty much equally, both in time spent and skill. It really alleviates any monotony that the small roster may have induced otherwise.

Rivals of the Aether is a welcome change to Smash. That’s not to say that Smash isn’t a great game - it was my Game of the Year 2014 after all. But Rivals, while being inspired by Smash is different. It’s not simply Smash with different characters. Sure, it has the same concept, but because of the way the characters kits are crafted, it still manages to play differently. It’s like the difference between Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Any fighting game is obviously reliant on the community and the people you can play with for enjoyment, especially since Rivals of Aethers story mode won’t be implemented till the full release. Thankfully, the game has an online 2 Player Vs, with possible 4 player online later on. From what I can tell, the netcode holds up well. I had very occasional matches with a little bit of delay, but nothing unplayable. Of course, you’re always best off playing with someone in the same room - online with someone you’ve never met can never hold a candle to the fast-paced frantic action of a 4 player brawl with your friends.

Rivals of Aether currently has a tentative release date of early 2016, but is currently available in Early Access on Steam and is planned to be available on the Xbox Game Preview Program on an unannounced date.

Written by,
Bad Demoman


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