Well, it appears a new SNES title has arrived, as Steel Assault is about as SNES as you can get. The side-scrolling action title looks, feels, and sounds exactly like a game that would release on Nintendo’s second home console back in the early 90’s, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, the Super Nintendo is home to some of gaming’s best titles ever, and Steel Assault would be right at home there. But instead of releasing on a classic console, this one is is on the Nintendo Switch.
So does Steel Assault have the chops to be a top-tier SNES title? Or is this just some mediocre indie game on Switch banking off the SNES’s charm? Let’s find out!
You play as Taro Takahashi, a resistance soldier on a revenge mission against a dictator named Pierce who lords over the ashes. In classic 16-bit action, Steel Assault not only has the simplest narrative, but dialog is subject to short, aggressive sentences in fuzzy lettering displayed in a perfectly accurate animated text box.
The characters and bosses are genuinely fun, and the overall feel of Steel Assault is that of an 80s action film, where the final boss doesn’t care about his minions at all and is only looking out ultimately for himself. Taro is his kryptonite, so Pierce is simply using all of these enemies as pawns to delay Taro from interfering.
It is good fun, and the wonderful 16-bit graphics look amazing. The fluid animation mixed with all of the fantastically designed enemies and bosses only elevates this experience even more. It may not be the best story, by any stretch, but Steel Assault does a great job of making us want to take Pierce down, no matter what.
As far as the gameplay goes, Steel Assault is a lovely mix of different side-scrolling action titles from the NES and SNES days. There are moments that pay homage to Contra, others that do so for Bionic Commando, and even little parts to Mega Man X, and yet at no point in the game does it feel like something else. Steel Assault is uniquely its own while also paying its respects to those that came before it.
One thing that the game brings to the table that is new is the zipline mechanic. Grappling hooks have been in gaming for a very long time, but this is the first time I have played a game with a portable zipline. Essentially, Taro can blast a modified grappling hook both directions to create a zipline wire, and he can create this line vertically, horizontally, and even diagonally to create access to higher areas and even use the line to help jump higher. It works incredibly well throughout the game, and it is an essential piece of equipment, especially among certain boss fights.
Aside from the zipline, the rest of Steel Assault is pretty standard. You attack with an electrical whip that can be temporarily upgraded at certain points in the game thanks to power-up boxes. You can also double jump and slide (Sliding actually gives you brief invulnerability), which really mixes up the potential for attacking baddies and bosses. Learning to take advantage of many of these actions while using the zipline is the difference between a mediocre run and a solid one.
There are a couple really cool moments where Taro takes control of a mini-gun, but I did find the aiming to be a bit difficult. This is especially true when playing on higher difficulties and protecting your health is even more important. Since this is a 16-bit title in just about every way, the mini-guns rotate on an 8-point spin as opposed to the current standard of precision aiming. It is still fun, but it can be frustrating when enemies are just outside of your aim.
Bosses are all big, bad, and awesome. Similar to Mega Man games, the key to beating bosses depends heavily on your ability to map out their movements. After you learn how they move, defeating them is simply a matter of discipline and following the patterns. Thankfully, the game does not have lives, so if you die, you restart at the last checkpoint, which are all very reasonably placed. For bosses, it is obviously right before you fight them, allowing you to return to the action if you do fall victim to their onslaught.
However, as great as the checkpoint system is, it also feels like the game’s biggest problem. In older NES and SNES games, part of the charm is the difficulty. When you run out of lives and continues, you have to start all over again. In Steel Assault, that pressure is eliminated, and the game’s play time suffers tremendously. Even though I did die quite a few times on my first playthrough, I still cleared the game in 44 minutes. It is significantly more difficult on Expert, but it is still possible to clear the hardest difficulty in under an hour. Thankfully, Arcade Mode is an option for masochists, and this is a one-life run where if you die you start back from the beginning. I wish Arcade Mode had a 3-life system to make it feel more arcade-like, but this is still a great addition for those old school players.
One of the best features is that the game is in 4:3 aspect ratio, which is just another way to make this genuinely look and feel like a 16-bit title. On top of that, the detailed pixelated artwork and amazing FM-synthesized tunes, particularly the opening theme, fired off all of my gaming nostalgia fixes. The CRT filter/curvature and border art can also be customized even further to make this look even more like an SNES title.
Steel Assault is a fantastic game that is only flawed by one of its quality-of-life additions. Although the checkpoint system does make the storied experience really short, the addition of Arcade Mode is where people are going to get the great challenge. Zenovia Interactive went above and beyond the call of duty to make this game feel like it is from a different time, and this is honestly one of the best 16-bit games I have played in a long, long time.
The zipline mechanic
Great boss fights
Fantastic soundtrack, especially the theme music
Beautiful graphics and awesome video settings
Story is really short
Checkpoint system does make story mode a bit too easy
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.