Developer Dan Fornace is the mind behind Super Smash Land, a fan-made Super Smash Bros. demake, who also served as Lead Developer on the excellent Killer Instinct reboot that launched alongside the Xbox One. Dan’s background is precisely why his new independent venture, Rivals of Aether, should grab your attention. It’s an amalgamation of the knowledge he’s accrued, as well as another passionate love letter to one of his favourite games.
Once you’re good and ready for competition, you’ll need to carefully select a stage to put your new skills to use on. There’s a mixture of symmetrical and asymmetrical layouts, as well as compositions that allow for more or less verticality, centred around both grounded and fantastical geography. Each possesses a fitting retro soundtrack that’ll really put the wind in your sails, as well as unique hazards and pick-ups that change the way you play. It’s worth noting that these modifiers can be turned off should you want an unimpeded fight experience, perhaps to settle a dispute with a level-playing-field grudge match.
A further glut of customisation options are available for the matches themselves, namely edits to the time limit and number of lives, number of participants, whether the battle is free-for-all or team-based, and each individual fighter’s competence. Everyone can find their sweet spot as a result.
Whatever settings you opt for, matches are enjoyably frenetic, especially if you opt for a full roster of four. The streamlined controls earn their stay here, not getting lost amongst the crazy cavalcade of busy visual effects as conventionally complex inputs likely would.
As you dish out beatings the recipient’s damage percentage increases, and the higher it gets the easier it is to knock them from the stage and deplete their stock of lives by one. Once they run out, they’re eliminated, and you win by being the last animorph standing. It’s incredibly Smash, but it’s regardless a raucous good time that brings the experience to an audience Smash largely doesn’t reach.
It’s incredibly Smash, but it’s regardless a raucous good time that brings the experience to an audience Smash largely doesn’t reach.
For an early access game, technical performance is mostly rock solid thanks to responsive controls and no hitching during even the most frenzied of encounters. When we ventured online, some issues did unfortunately apparate in the finicky invite system and occasional bout of lag.
The online multiplayer issues don’t quite end there, however, as the breadth of choice available to solo users gives way to quite a rigid structure. Whilst it’s understandable that ranked matches would disable stage modifiers and bots, there’s no reason to enforce the same strict ruling on friendly matches. To the same point, team-based battles should also be available. Rivals of Aether is predictably at its absolute best when shared with friends, but unless they’re available for local play, the options are disappointingly limiting.
Despite that, if you’ve been craving a nostalgic shot of Smash Bros. but have long since left Nintendo behind, were burned by PlayStation All-Stars, or are just looking to inject some variety into your repertoire of bog-standard fighters, Rivals of Aether is for you. Whether you choose to invest now or wait for the final release depends where your interests lie; whilst you’re (at least eventually) in for a treat either way, we’d advise erring on the side of caution and waiting to see if the online options are expanded upon first.
Pick it up in preview
Wait for final release
Avoid it either way
Note: To reiterate, Rivals of Aether is currently in preview phase and this review reflects the state of the game at the time of publishing. Things can and will change, likely only for the better.
A brief second opinion:
With that in mind, the preview build definitely offers a strong beginning that we can expect to reach its full potential as the game is updated to reach release state.