Boy howdy, this post is looong overdue! Rivals of Aether launched out of Steam Early Access about a month ago now, and I was actually planning to write this piece elsewhere even before I logged back into Game Informer and started blogging again. After a month of getting mixed up in other games and obligations, I can finally add my “Should You Be Playing...?” series to Game Informer, where I dig through new indie releases on different platforms every week or so and highlight one based on relevance, quality, or uniqueness.

One of those games is Rivals of Aether - a new title in such a popular subgenre that I’m kinda shocked at how little attention it’s getting. Rivals of Aether is a “Smash-like” fighting game that has been in development since 2014. You might be familiar with its creator, Dan Fornace; he was the lead designer on Killer Instinct ’13 as well as the programmer and artist behind that cool Super Smash Land de-make. Rivals of Aether got a bit of press coverage and gained over 100,000 players during its time in Early Access, but the full release hasn’t made that number jump in the way I thought it would.

With that in mind, I want to talk about the game, why you should be playing it and why it could be the shot in the arm that the “platform fighter” subgenre desperately needs.

Rivals of Aether is a meticulous refinement of the Smash Bros fighting formula, and it arguably does a better job than Melee itself. That doesn’t mean the game is overcomplicated; it’s still as easy to pick up and play as any Smash title and has that same fundamental control scheme. However, the incredibly high skill ceiling allows for combos, parries and wavedashes galore. The game simplifies these concepts and introduces them through its smart tutorials, which can genuinely help the average Smash player (like me) understand and utilize them.

The characters in Rivals of Aether borrow some noticeable moves from Nintendo’s most famous fighters, like Fox’s reflector and Pikachu’s electric spike, but each character is strongly distinguished from the others and they all feel empowering in different ways. The impressively fluid sprites, animations and sound design combine to make each strike feel satisfying. The various stages are equally lovely, and the whole game is complete with an exhilarating and catchy soundtrack from flashygoodness. Check out the video below to see a few examples of what I’ve been talking about for the last two paragraphs:

watch?v=cFCf6Vurbq8

On the other hand, there are a few reasons why Smash players might want to keep their expectations in check. Rivals of Aether has a pretty small roster compared to your average Smash Bros game, with 8 playable characters at the time of this writing. Personally, I think this is a good number to start with while the game’s competitive meta evolves, but those who come to the Smash Bros series purely for the volume of Nintendo fan service may be disappointed by the not-so-huge roster. Rivals of Aether also lacks the sheer amount of content that is present in a Smash Bros game (it’s an indie game with an indie budget, after all). Nonetheless, it still has a story mode for each character, a challenging survival mode, in-depth color customization for characters, and of course the online mode with its solid netcode.

All things considered, should you be playing Rivals of Aether? Yes, I think you should, especially if you enjoy the gameplay of the Super Smash Bros series or have any interest in the competitive side of it. For my part, I’m just glad to see a platform fighter that could possibly shake up Melee’s 15-year-long dominance of the subgenre - if enough people are willing to give it a chance.