Rivals of Aether Review


More often than not, my curiosity grows when I’m face to face with a platform fighter —a fighting game à la Smash Bros, basically. There’s a bit of distrust, but also a genuine interest in how the formula popularized by Nintendo has been expanded or changed on this occasion. Is the game a copycat without any trace of originality? Does it try to bring something new to the table? And the most important question of all: is it a cool-looking and fun fighting game?

Cutting right to the chase, Rivals of Aether is a fantastic video game that has nothing to envy from its bigger brothers. Originally released in 2017, the game has been receiving updates and free content until this point, including new modes and characters. Whatsmore, it has created a passionate community that still supports it and participates in relevant and intense tournaments. My aim with this review is to briefly explore why this is the case, and what’s so interesting about Rivals of Aether.  

Learning how to ride a bike again

The first thing I do every time I jump into a fighting game for the first time is to visit the tutorial mode. It doesn’t matter if it’s an arena, platform, or tag team title: I just want to have a nice glimpse of the things I’m able to do from the very beginning. 

Fortunately, Rivals of Aether has a pretty comprehensive tutorial. Separated by actions or characters, you’ll learn the basics along with more advanced features regarding your movement, attacks, and defensive options. A cute orb will explain to you every mechanic that can be realized in a quite clear manner, asking you to perform an action three times in a row.  

It only took me a few trials to get more and more excited about all the wild cards available. Classic mechanics such as changing your Directional Influence (the angle at which you are hit), wavedashing (moving forward in a particular way, cancelling animations), doing short hops, teching (recovering and moving when knocked out) on the floor or at walls, and many others can be learned. Half an hour in and I was already amazed at the depth of the combat. There are a good number of layers, ready to be explored. I was intrigued to see how it all played out in a real fight.

If the previous paragraph is full of gibberish that you don’t mind and you only want to know if the game is fun, I have good news for you: the game is fun. In fact, it’s remarkably entertaining and it offers a good amount of content for every kind of player: you want to fight against friends, locally or online? Check. Do you prefer going solo and fighting the AI in different modes? Double-check, with a really nice variety of difficulties that can appeal to a wide range of players.

It doesn’t matter if Rivals of Aether is your first fighting game or the 42nd one you’ve played. The game is visually delightful with its simple but beautiful character designs, and it’s easy to pick up and play, doing special moves in your first session — they only require a button and a direction, much like what happens in Smash Bros. The general control scheme is basic: one move for basic attacks, another for special ones, a third button one for jumping, the fourth one for heavy attacks (which can also be performed by using your right stick if using a joystick), and multiple ones for dodging or parrying. You’ll be able to do flashy things straight away, and then begin on the frustrating path of learning how to play a fighting game — if that’s what you want, of course. On the other hand, more experienced players will enjoy their time discovering their attacks’ sweet spots, experimenting with combos and abilities, and learning how to control the space between their character and their enemy.

Interestingly enough, two famous actions in the genre are missing here: there are no shields nor grabs. Considering the variety of tools at your disposal, their absences aren’t really that important, although they might introduce an extra level of challenge for newcomers. Depending on a precise dodge or on an even more demanding parry window as defensive options can be frustrating and it’s something to bear in mind.

Look into the abyss

Nowadays, more and more fightings games are conceived with the idea of offering multiple modes for players that want more options than just fighting strangers online. Luckily, Rivals of Aether is one of those. There’s a story mode, featuring six characters’ stories and one epilogue, each one of them with its unique scenes and backgrounds. While they might not be incredibly touching or anything, they work as sympathetic tales that will steal one or two smiles from you. 

Apart from the classic versus, practice or the aforementioned tutorial mode, you can also play two other modes: Tether or Abyss. Tether is short for Tetherball (the beach game with the ball tied to a stick) and it works just fine, although it’s a shame that it can’t be played online at the moment. However, Abyss mode has been a pleasant surprise: you’ll enter an endless route of objectives and rivals, with different characteristics and changes to the game’s rules. It’s by far the mode in which I’ve spent more hours and still want to spend dozens more. The presentation, the continuous change of objectives, and how it throws challenge after challenge to you make it a delightful experience. It has an unexpected level of depth, too: you can level up your characters and purchase abilities or effects that can alter your movement and attacks, making them faster, more powerful, or adding specific characteristics like invincible startups. You’ll buy these with Aether Coins, the game’s currency that you get by doing basically anything.

The only real issue I experience while playing this title was with the online battles, but luckily, it wasn’t too often. You can select a region and filter your rivals, which makes your life easier and avoids most laggy fights. However, it’s worth mentioning that I did experience a good amount of them and they were always frustrating, but it isn’t the norm. 

Everyone is not here… but they could be!

The last thing you need to know is perhaps the most important one: the game has a beautiful roster of 14 fighters waiting for you. They are based on animals with elemental powers, like a lion that uses fire called Zetterburn, the bear that attacks with ice called Etalus, or the raccoon-like guardian of the Aetherian Forest, Maypul. 

The characters, as expected, have distinctive movesets and range of abilities. While all of them require the same inputs to perform their actions, their attacks are quite different from each other. For instance, Zettleburn’s side special sends a fireball, while Etalus can freeze the ground and Maypul can move more quickly. There’s a character for every kind of player: those who prefer low damage but fast moves, zoners, creatures that can set up traps across the whole battlefield, or those with specific gimmicks, like creating clones. During my time, I didn’t fight any unbalanced or broken character that could ruin my experience. In fact, they all felt interesting enough to try them out and play a few matches.

Even with a more than correct initial roster, it would be wrong not to highlight that Rivals of Aether has a Workshop feature integrated. If playing as guest characters Ori and Shovel Knight isn’t enough for you, guess what: you can easily download and install dozens of fully controllable and excellent characters made by the community. There’s a wild variety: you can play as Luigi (please Nintendo, don’t do your thing), Shrek, Goku, Homer Simpson, a good number of Pokémon or even Gigachad. Yes, the handsome meme. It’s not just fighters either, as the Workshop allows for new stages and modes, so you will never run out of things to play.

The win screen

While checking my article, I noticed I haven’t explicitly addressed one subject: originality. The reason is simple: apart from its clever and nicely crafted roster, Rivals of Aether doesn’t feel like it brings too much new to the table: most of its modes and gameplay features are well-known of the platform fighting sub-genre or has a few twists. Nevertheless, this game works as a perfect example that you don’t need innovative ideas when you have a more than solid core and fantastic decisions for the player. Rivals of Aether does excellently what every fighting game should achieve: being a joy to play and watch.