Wednesday, June 10, 2015

AAAAATATATATATATATATA! - Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action!

The thing I think I find most interesting about this game is what other people are calling it. I've seen a lot of people comparing it to the games mad by Treasure back in the 90s, a couple have referred to it as a lost Sega Saturn game. That's some high praise and yet the game more or less slid under the radar. Iit just sort of popped up on Steam one day after having apparently been available from the developer for some time before then. I vaguely recall being able to buy the game from dev the at a discount a short time before the Steam launch (and I might be wrong on that anyway) But that's about all the hype I remember the game getting.

Aces Wild is is a game about well... the game has an opening cutscene before the title screen, explaining something about a tournament to decide who gets to use some dojo for the next few years. To help put things in perspective however, I should note that that cutscene is all the story the game has, and you can readily skip it. In fact when I first got the game, it took me quite a while to realize there was a story at all, because trying to skip the opening logos also skips the cutscene. When it takes a player several weeks to realize the game has a story, that says a lot about how important it is.
Who are these people? Why are they fighting? Who cares!
At it's core, Aces Wild is a 2D brawler with maybe some minor platforming elements that sees you taking on an army of ninjas, cyborgs mechanical drones and curiously, Shiba Inu dogs. The game  actually takes a few departures from your typical brawler The first and most obvious being the fact that you can fly. You have the ability to dash in game, and your dash can go in any direction you want, including upwards. Most of your attacks also help keep you afloat, so keeping and staying airborne is very simple. The game also takes good advantage of this, as many enemies are permanently airborne and stages include a lot vertical space to fly in.

The ability to fly also ties into the games combat mechanics. In Aces wild you have two forms of attack. The first is rush attacks which acts as your basic combo. It's a few basic moves that end in a rapid-fire flurry of attacks, fairly straightforward though they keep you airborne and let you move around while you're not dashing. Then you have crash attacks. Crash attacks are your big, heavy hitting moves that send enemies flying and what a lot of the combat is built around. with crash attacks, you can slam enemies into each other or even parts of the environment for extra damage, the environment is even partially destructible, giving you the ability to perform crash attacks on platforms to slam them into enemies. A lot of the combat is actually based less on combos and more on positioning, crowding enemies together or moving them towards a useful part of the environment before using your crash attack to knock them around like billiards.
Readers are encouraged to provide their own Doge caption here.
Finally you have your wild meter, it acts mostly like a super meter, you build it up with rush attacks, then use it to either power up your crash attacks, perform devastating counters, or in a pinch perform a panic attack that heals you at the cost of all your built up meter. The wild meter also controls the game's difficulty, with you doing and taking more damage as it builds up. Managing your wild meter is a big part of the game, as you'll want to build it up for those big counters and crash attacks, but don't want to hold onto for too long. Finally, while you can use panic attacks to heal yourself, there's a threshold you need to build the meter to before you can do it, and every time you use a panic attack that threshold is raised, eventually requiring a full meter to use.

Finally, I should note that as an old school brawler, this game is hard. The first stage or two isn't too bad, but later stages can be quit difficult and require you to really master the games mechanics. In fact I'll admit that despite the game being only seven stages long, I haven't beaten the game yet, I'm stuck at a particularly difficult section of stage 6. Fortunately, the game gives you unlimited continues and frequent checkpoints in stages so you can keep trying to clear parts you get stuck on. also while the game has no save function, there's a level select screen that lets you readily jump to any section of any stage in the game, allowing you to readily practice sections or jump back to wherever you left things last time. Also, while I couldn't try it, the game does have local multiplayer, so having a buddy join in might help.

Finally, the game has a ranking system and high scores for every level in the game, so those who like to really master their games have something to work towards.
Every stage ends with a quick stat breakdown and final grade
The game has a nice, clean graphics style. Interestingly, despite the fact that this is isn't pixel art, it manages to do a good job of capturing the feel of the old school brawlers that inspired it. Unfortunately, while everything looks nice, areas can look a little samey This is because most of the game takes place in urban areas, so you'll be seeing a lot of brick and stone. The effects do a good job of providing some oomph to attacks as sparks fly from your attacks and projectiles leave glowing trails add in some camera shaking or a momentary pause to highlight some of the bigger attacks and you've got some some good visual flair to back up the game's lightening fast combat. Overall it's a nice looking game, and it's neat to see a game with some retro appeal that does something besides more pixel art.

The game also has some real good sound design, attacks and collisions are backed by heavy thuds and whacks to give them that extra oomph and in the graphic effects mentioned above and you get combat that bout looks and sounds satisfying. There is however a slight drawback, mostly with the playable character Ace Wilder - Yes, really that's his name - He has a couple of "Hoo"s and "Ha"s to go with his attacks, and you're going to be hearing a lot of that. it's not overbearing, but you're likely to get tired of his constant "Hoo! Ha! Ho! Hoo! Ha! Ho! Hoo! Ha! Ho!"-ing after awhile.

The game's soundtrack meanwhile is alarmingly catchy. Songs are very upbeat and energetic, matching the frantic pace of the game quite nicely. It's chiptune, but rather than the usual NES or SNES kind of sound a lot of games go for, this sounds more like something out of maybe a mid to late 90s arcade game, which goes along with the feel the game was going for.
Visual effects give your attacks some impact.
The game unfortunately does have one major flaw: It's not very forward with information, the tutorial doesn't even tell you what buttons does what. There's a very basic Manual hiding in the game's installation folder but even that isn't perfect, and there's still information missing. For example, there's actually three playable characters in the game: Ace Wilder, Gene Drift and Eagle Morris but the game doesn't tell you what makes them different. From what little I can tell with playing as each one, Ace is an all-rounder with balanced stats, Gene is more of a heavyweight bruiser and Eagle a fast, speedy character but nothing in the game tells you this. In fact I'll admit a lot of the game's finer details, like how you deal and take more damage as your Wild meter builds I only learned recently... by reading about it on the game's Steam store page while I was doing a little research to write this review.

Also, the game has some weird controller issues. For starts, this is definitely a game that requires a controller, and doesn't work very will with a keyboard. But one of the weirdest is the fact that the pause and menu buttons are separate. pausing just pauses the game, and you need to press a different button to bring up the menu. There's been a couple of occasions where I've paused the game meaning to go to the menu, then opened the, closed it, then sat there wondering why the game seems to have frozen until I remembered I still need to unpause the game. both functions really should of been one button.

Finally, the game is perhaps a bit too frantic for it's own good at times. There's been times where I'm more or less buried in enemies and have no idea where I am on screen. Also the game's reliance on flying and knocking enemies around can get a bit annoying, especially since you can get tossed around like a pinball if your not careful. I'll admit it could just be I'm not the best at this game, but compared to a more typical brawler it doesn't always feel like I've got as solid a control of my character as I'd like.

Still, while I couldn't beat it and I'm not sure if I ever could, what I did experience was a lot of fun. At the very least the game delivers on it's premise. It's called Manic Brawling Action and that's exactly what it delivers. with a flying mechanic to set it apart form your typical brawler and music and graphics that give it that give it a classic brawler feel, it's defiantly worth a look. Just keep in mind that beating it will be a challenge, and there might be a bit more of a learning curve than you may be used to and have a gamepad ready.

Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! developed and published by Culture Attack Studio. It is available on Steam. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchasing option is available here.

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