Review: Rivals of Aether – A Surprisingly Complex Alternative To Smash Bros.

Earth, wind and fire (and water).

After diving into the unmitigated disaster that is Bounty Battle just recently, we can’t say we were particularly enamoured with the idea of slogging our way through yet another Smash Bros.-esque indie fighting effort quite so soon. However, Rivals of Aether is an experience that’s just about as far removed from that mess as is perhaps possible within (or without) the confines of a genre. Here is a carefully crafted, deep and addictive 16-bit platform fighter that takes the base influence of Nintendo’s brawling behemoth and runs off in its own direction, resulting in a brawler that cuts away a lot of faff and theatre and gets down to some surprisingly hardcore and competitive business.

The land of Aether, in which Dan Fornace’s game is set, is divided into warring civilizations of animal fighters who’ve been tricked into facing off against each other by a shadowy Lovecraftian fiend. Taking place over six stages – and one hidden final battle – which introduce the original core characters that were available to players back when the game first released in 2017, the story mode here is a short and simple affair which nevertheless does a decent job of setting the scene and providing a little background to the cast’s motivations for kicking each other’s pans in. That six-strong cast has also now been expanded to a total of fourteen pugilists, twelve from across the land of Aether itself as well as two delightful cameos in the form of Ori and the legend that is Shovel Knight.

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