2021 is shaping up to be the year of indie action games. At least for me, this is the third high quality indie game that I’ve reviewed in such a short span of time. If the developers keep this up, I won’t have more time for “AAA” games. Thank god… I mean, there are still good “AA.. Ok, enough with this “A” thing, I hate it. I think I’ll refer to those “A” games as bloatware from now on. I’m just kidding! Steel Assault is developed by Zenovia Interactive. Initially a Kickstarter project, it finally came to light last September. Steel Assault is an action-platformer game in the mold of 8 and 16-bit arcade titles.
The game is set in a post-apocalyptic “America”. As Taro Takahashi, a super agent in an organization that uh… fights evil, I guess, the player must overthrow a dictator and his army of high tech minions. That’s it. There’s absolutely no exposition to anything whatsoever, apart from some dialogues that don’t explain much. And that’s fine for a game like this, really.
Steel Assault is an old-school 2D side-scrolling, action-platformer game; this alone should already give the player a very good idea of what’s to come. Taro makes use of a high-tech whip that he can swing in all eight directions to attack. He can also slide to avoid attacks as he’s invulnerable for a short amount of time. Last, but most importantly, he can instantly attach a zipline to -almost- any surface, even in the middle of a jump provided there are two points to accommodate it. This is what sets Steel Assault apart from other games in the same style. There’s a tutorial mode that teaches all the mechanics, so there’s no need to worry about it being complicated. You can practice as much as you want before starting the game in earnest. Unfortunately, the zipline mechanic, as interesting as it is, is implemented in a bit of a conservative way. It’s only really mandatory in some sections of the game’s stages; it’s used normally to climb a wall or place Taro in a position to avoid damage in a boss battle.
The pacing of the game is really fast, and will require practice so the player can recognize enemy patterns and navigate the stages without taking too much damage. These types of games are normally infamous for their difficulty, and Steel Assault is no exception. The problem here is that the game is super short; on normal difficulty it should take the average player roughly two hours, and that’s with deaths and retries included. This shouldn’t be a problem if the game’s difficulty was balanced adequately; normal difficulty is satisfying but too forgiving, with a lot of checkpoints and life replenishes. You can even power through many sections as you have too much HP and enemy damage isn’t enough to stop you from reaching the next checkpoint. In contrast, expert mode is a bit too difficult; there are no checkpoints or life refills and dying in a boss battle means going back to the start of the stage. I personally think this a huge problem since a lot of people will finish the game in under two hours on normal or easy difficulty and never touch it again. If you find the normal difficulty being too easy, I urge you to try expert difficulty or arcade mode.
The graphics are top notch, one of the best in the genre. It uses pixel graphics with so much detail and fluidity, that it looks like a high budget arcade game of the early 90’s. In fact, there’s so much on the screen in some parts that it makes it difficult to see what’s what, but that’s a very minor issue. There is a good amount of customization options in this department; you can use a bilinear filter, which applies a blur to the pixels, and a CRT filter with scanlines, including an adjustable monitor curvature for a true to life arcade experience. You can use all of those combined or no filter at all.
Along with the graphics, the sound production is also excellent. The music is high quality and is also amazingly composed, with exhilarating tunes fitting of an action arcade game. Actually, don’t take my word for it this time, just listen to this: Heart of Concrete – BLUEPRINT: Steel Assault ver. QWESTA. There’s also an option to use FM versions of the soundtrack if you want the game to sound like a true 90’s arcade game.
It’s really good to see games like this making a comeback. We’re finally at a point where indie games of today can look like the beloved arcade games of a now distant era. Steel Assault almost checks all the boxes of a true classic masterpiece. I can only hope this trend gets enough steam to continue and produce even better quality titles.
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