Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! [Review]
I don’t fight defensively when I play games any more. My reflexes have weakened from years of playing modern games, constantly being coddled by checkpoints and regenerating health. I seem to have forgotten the days I spent dodging and weaving around bosses, avoiding every single attack while I waited for that exact moment to strike. I am not the man that spent an hour and a half fighting the last boss of Shinobi on PS2, taking only the most careful, most precise strikes to ensure that I survived. In other words, I ain’t hard any more. This is why Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! left me in ruins, my broken fingers a warning to any who want to play this excellent beat ‘em up. What is that warning? It’s that victory only comes with sacrifice and skill. Especially sacrifice, as many, many avatars died to bring you this review.
It’s hard. Coarse. It will take boys and turn them into men. It will take girls and turn them into men. I have not tested the latter but still think it is true, as this game gets pretty vicious. There are a lot of different elements that tie together to make this game hard, but it’s those same aspects that make it really hard to put down. For every hindrance and challenge, you are given a way of keeping yourself going and overcoming. You’ll still snatch victory from the narrowest of margins while you learn to play this game, and you will love it.
For starters, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your health bar. Learn it. Check it frequently. Yes, you do get a couple of checkpoints between levels, but there are no health pickups to get while playing the game. Even on the lowest difficulty, there will be no food pickups to keep you going. So, every hit counts in this game, as there’s only one way to heal yourself, and that involves using a full panic bar (you build this up by beating up on dudes). Since you use your panic bar to do all of your more powerful attacks (more on this later), it’s a rough trade to have to make. This made me incredibly paranoid about my health bar, and somehow, after years of trading hits in many of the games I played, I started dodging again. I was keeping an eye on things and trying not to take damage. If you don’t, expect to see a lot of the same stage over and over again.
What of the infinite lives you have to play the game? Sure, the game has a scoring system built into it for those crazy speed runners to play around with, but why do the rest of us care? Maybe you think you can easily limp through this game with infinite continues and relatively generous checkpoints if you don’t care about your score, but you may need to think back to Ghouls N’ Ghosts if you think having more lives makes things easier. Aces Wild does let you repeat a screen as much as you want, but they have made it quite possible to get wiped out by the enemies on any one screen if you’re not careful. Even if you are cautious, a couple of simple mistakes will often result in huge chunks of your health getting chewed up, so don’t assume that the game is taking it easy on you by giving you unlimited chances.
You do have a lot of tools at your disposal. At first, I was throwing a lot of punches, admiring the explosive results of my handiwork every time I killed a ninja. The neat part is that the death blow on each enemy will send that enemy flying around the screen, slamming into other enemies and dealing heavy damage to them. I’m typically happy enough just from the fact that I have one less guy to fight when I put one down, but being able to hurt many other enemies with a single kill meant I put a lot of focus on cleaning out weak enemies while I fought. Every kill is a huge advantage beyond thinning out the herd as it could ricochet into other enemies and give me some free kills, and has somehow made killing enemies in a video game even more satisfying than normal. I like beating up enemies, but weaponizing their bodies? Tyler Doak (the dev), you’re too good to me.
Picking off guys will only get you so far, as you have to whittle down some lengthy health bars before you send someone flying around like a pinball. It seemed like I only had a flurry of punches I could do at first, but you also have a Panic bar that fills up while you beat on the enemies. You don’t have to fill it much before you can use it, and by holding down its activation button you’ll charge up a super attack that will slam into an enemy and send them flying around, doing far more damage than if you’ve killed them with normal attacks. This meter charges up pretty fast, too, so you can feel free to use it frequently with the developer’s blessing. I never got tired of using this ability, as watching an enemy ping around and kill all of his friends is always satisfying.
Sounds awesome, but there is a tradeoff. You can use it when the bar isn’t very full, but you’ll only do a little damage. You’re better off waiting until it’s very full if you want to do some huge damage, but you have to charge the attack longer in order to use a full bar. There is no middle ground where you just use a little bit of energy to do an attack, though – you use the full bar or nothing. This might not seem too bad, but a single hit from any enemy will interrupt it, and you’ll still lose the entire bar you were charging. This means that you have to take big risks with your most powerful attack, choosing when you use it very carefully. If you screw up, you lose the entire bar and probably take a hit you would have normally dodged. If you pull it off, though, the enemies are in big trouble (Unless you need it for your health bar. Which you will.). Do you dare risk it in a room with fifteen guys circling you?
Maybe once you’re airborne, you do. Now, this game was already pretty fast-paced, but the dev added in some great mobility to make it move even quicker. The ground is more of a suggestion of where you should fight in Aces Wild, as you can take to the air and stay there with ease. As long as you’re hitting someone, you can hold any direction and move that way. This means you can shoot directly up with someone and carry them into the sky, or in any direction toward or away from more enemies depending on what you need to do. You can also double jump and do an air dash while already airborne, meaning you have a lot of mobility for a 2D beat ‘em up. Some of the game’s more difficult challenges come from this neat skill, as there are a few rooms where the ground is destroyable and touching the bottom of the screen will either damage or kill you. You’d better hope to have your air juggling and dashing skills down by those points or those infinite lives will seem more like a taunt than a boon.
Expect to get tossed into those pits a lot anyway, as there are usually half a dozen or more enemies on the screen at once, and they are all gunning for you. The bad guys in Aces Wild don’t take their turns like enemies do in a lot of beat ‘em ups. Even going back to games like Final Fight, you’d often see this weird phenomena where enemies would only attack you one or two at a time, always staying kind of manageable. Don’t get me wrong, they were still hard, but I’d often see two or three enemies just standing there waiting to go. Not Aces Wild. Here, you get reams of enemies all attacking at the same time, and a good couple of hits will quickly send you flying around just like you normally do to your enemies. Expect to get mercilessly juggled when this happens, bouncing from enemy to enemy.
How do you avoid this horrible fate? Watch your enemies. This game is big on giving the player clues on when something bad is about to happen, so keep an eye and ear out. Enemies glow red when they’re about to attack, and will home in on you no matter where they are. So, if you see some guy on the other side of the screen light up, get ready to activate your sweet dodge move. Bosses will also indicate what they’re up to with audio cues that indicate which move they’re about to do, and with many of them having large and constantly changing movesets, you’re going to want to learn these as well. Beyond that, all enemies will flash with a bright circle if they’ve blocked an attack and are ready to counter, so you always, always know when something bad is coming.
You can deal with it, too, since you have a neat little dodge ability. With the main character, you have a very short window in which the dodge works, so you can’t just spam it and hope for the best. You do a small turn, maybe only a few frames, and that’s what will get you through. At first, I was nervous and hammered on the button, resulting in my getting hit all the time. This seems frustrating, but it’s just the game’s way of teaching you that, for all of the movement and flashy attacks, the game wants you to take your time and deal with threats carefully. You only get a limited window to use your dodge, so you have to pick your timing carefully. I was dodging quite well within the first half-hour, surprising myself with my switch from offense to defense. I’m normally a slug-it-out kind of guy, but Aces Wild‘s gameplay really changed me. Then again, if it didn’t I wouldn’t have made it very far.
The presentation for all of this mayhem is quite nice, too. At first, I felt it looked a little too much like many of the flash games I’ve played over the years, but the game’s explosive effects helped it to stand out a bit more. Just the same, the game does stick to a lot of similar locations, and even its enemy set doesn’t change all that much. It bothered me a bit at times since there are many different types of basic ninjas where the only change seems to be in some coloring on their belts and bandanas. This makes it hard to tell what type you’re fighting so I didn’t always have a proper strategy. Otherwise, there are some nice larger enemies in the game that have a lot of detail, but the bosses are the best thing. They all have their own unique designs and attack routines, so they’re fun to watch. The robot boss of the fifth stage looks amazing, and is easily the coolest thing to look at in the game.
The music was upbeat to match with the pace of the game, and it does sound nice. I liked the sound effects a bit better, though, as the crushing thump you hear when you hit an enemy is pretty satisfying. It’s a nice touch that makes combat feel more visceral, although it is a very ‘video game-y’ kind of sound instead of a realistic slam. Something realistic wouldn’t have fit in with the art style, though, so it was a good choice. The voice actors for the game are all right, but didn’t do much for me. I appreciated them speaking audio clues to tell me the boss attacks, though.
That brings me to the bosses. Now, combat with a bunch of ninjas is cool, but it’s the seven brutal bosses in this game that brought me to a halt every time. Many levels are challenging and can take multiple tries, but the bosses become walls of difficulty before you’re even halfway done. The fourth level boss took me hours on her own as I learned her attacks, carefully dodged them, and then fought to just tick away any damage that I could land. It’s a highly stressful dance that requires comfortable use of all of your abilities at once, and I never got tired of doing it. Expect to play at your best for five to ten minutes straight while fighting these guys depending on your skill level, and also expect to get juggled to death if you screw up. It felt like tightrope walking to fight these guys at times, and while I could take a decent amount of hits from them, they could survive so many from me that I had to teach myself to play more defensively and keep my health. The stress of it might break some people, but with all of those abilities, I just couldn’t stop coming back for more. Maybe if I played smarter this time, I would win.
These multiple abilities all come together quite seamlessly while you’re fighting dozens of enemies and the brutal bosses, creating an experience that appears frantic but is actually quite strategic — something that doesn’t surprise me given Tyler Doak’s history with fighting games. You have an extensive set of moves that you need to know, and it’s not long before the game demands that you can execute them (and know when to execute them) perfectly. It’s quite simple to control, but putting those moves to perfect use is how you’ll get through Aces Wild. It’s so fast, fluid, and easy to pick up that I could never put it down for long. Beat’em up fans, Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! is the game you’ve been waiting for in 2014.
Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! can be purchase from Steam for $9.99.