October 1, 2021 — When it comes to old-school arcade action, not many games manage to genuinely recreate the feeling of the 80s-90s coin-op era. Thankfully, the New York-based team behind Steel Assault — Zenovia knew exactly what they were doing when developing this game.

“Steel Assault is excellently designed in terms of enemies — players will barely sense any repetition.”

Steel Assault is an action-packed platformer that mimics old-school game design. It has interesting, difficult stages for players to learn through trial and error until they’ve mastered enemy positioning, spacing, movement, and boss patterns. The game perfectly delivers what it sets out to do and makes you feel like you just found an old arcade title that you haven’t played yet. Intriguingly, and on a bit of a side note, the game is published by Tribute Games — the team currently working on the much-anticipated Shredder’s Revenge (a co-op Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat ’em up.)

Frenetic Platform Action

Steel Assault doesn’t lose any time. As soon as you start the game, the music kicks in and makes you feel like you must hurry. After a brief dialogue, the game throws you right into the action, with enemies spawning in your face and bullets flying around.

This is a game that follows the trial and error design the way it used to be. You have to figure out things by dying over and over until you’ve found a solution to the problem — either by memorizing enemy spawning points and destroying them as they show up, or learning how to avoid them altogether.

I can appreciate an arcade-like action game that will force me to restart an area until I finally understand how to deal with the challenge. It’s how we old-time gamers learned things back in the day, and one can easily tell that Steel Assault is intentionally designed to frustrate players until they feel awesome for finally reaching the next stage.
Also, the music is incredibly atmospheric and does a fantastic job at setting the mood for the game’s pacing whilst amping up the nostalgia factor coupled with beautiful pixel art. All that considered, and with the game’s aspect ratio staying true to the more square screens of the 90s, one could easily believe Steel Assault came out in the early 90s.

Truly hard, Surprisingly short

It took me 44 minutes to beat Steel Assault in Normal Mode. You can just brute force most of the game if you play on this difficulty level, so this is a fair challenge for gamers that are not super dedicated to arcade-type platformers.

Although you can have fun that way, it is in Expert mode that the game really shines. Enemy placement doesn’t change much, but enough to give you a headache. Health becomes a precious resource because it doesn’t get replenished when you go to the next area. On top of all that, dying sends you all the way back to the start of the stage.

It took me 16 minutes to beat the first stage, and it only took longer for me to figure out the following challenges as the game only became more challenging as I progressed.
If you’re crazy enough, you can try Steel Assault’s arcade mode. A difficulty mode that restarts completely if you die. This is the true one-quarter Arcade experience, and it demands a lot of dedication, repetition, and memorization.

Ziplining Mechanic and Killing Moves

The Hero of Steel Assault — Taro Takahashi — has a limited set of actions. He can jump, double jump, whip, crouch, slide, and zipline. That’s, to sum it up shortly, is what players do until the ending. However, the game innovates and forces players to learn new ways to use those moves as it presents a surprising variety of new enemies, mini-bosses, and creatively put together platforming challenges.

The zipline is an interesting mechanic that allows players to traverse levels in creative ways once they have it figured out. Its functionality can also be used to delay falling a little, although the zipline doesn’t attach to anything in this state.

SCORE

8

OUT OF 10

THE GOOD

  • Beautiful pixel art adorns an overall impressive level design.
  • True, difficult arcade experience and with a high variety of enemies that never gets repetitive or boring — only challenging.
  • Awesome level and world music.
  • The zipline mechanic is a novel invention and although it can be a little difficult getting used to, the included tutorial is excellent.

THE BAD

  • The game is too short.
  • The difficulty level is likely too challenging for (casual) players not familiar with arcade games.

Conclusive Thoughts

When it comes to enemy variety, Steel Assault is so excellently designed it feels like there is barely any repetition. There is always something new and fresh thrown at players — from the beginning all the way to the end. All bosses and mini-bosses are fun, creatively designed, and superbly animated. Sadly, the game’s one major downside is that it feels short since it has only four stages. On the upside, hardcore arcade fans ready to take on Steel Assault on the ‘Expert’ difficulty level will make the most of the title.

 

Steel Assault is available now as a digital download on Nintendo Switch and Windows via Steam.