Zenovia Interactive’s 16-bit throwback Steel Assault is a fun and inventive albeit very brief sprint down memory lane. It pulls a lot from SNES and Genesis-era titles to build somewhat of a homunculus of those ingredients. It doesn’t overstay its welcome but the time it sticks around is always fast-paced and at times pretty relentless in its mayhem. It’s one to check out for retro fans.
Like many games from the 16-bit era, Steel Assault is incredibly sparse when it comes to story. You play as a cool video game man named Taro who is sent on a mission to take down an evil dictator with an army of mercenaries and robots. And that’s all you need to know. It’s a decent setup but the real meat here is the gameplay. Like most of the 16-bit era. Which I would say only counts in Steel Assault’s favor when it comes to keeping its look and feel authentic to those games.
At just a glance at Steel Assault and its gameplay, the Castlevania and Contra inspirations are apparent. You’ll run, shoot, slide, and whip your way through obstacles and giant robots. Sometimes it will feel like an absolute onslaught on higher difficulties. I’m not exaggerating here. Even jumping onto easy to compare doesn’t make it all that less difficult. All you get is a few extra hit points before it’s game over because the platforming can be a lot to contend with. That being said, it’s still always fair.
One of the most interesting mechanics in the game is Taro’s zipline. This skill allows you to zip around the environment as long as there is an anchor point at either end. The range of motion does take a moment to get acclimated to but moving vertically, diagonally, and horizontally is always a great time once you get the hang of it. You’ll be using it pretty frequently as well and in tandem with a whole bunch of baddies trying to get in your way. It does feel very satisfying and makes you feel like a bit of a badass when you find yourself zipping up at an angle to launch yourself to a higher platform so you can take out a pesky robot with a vendetta. It gives the game an occasional classic Bionic Commando vibe which is always appreciated in my book.
Visually, Steel Assault is fantastic. It revels in that distinct 16-bit aesthetic while somewhat cheating here and there by utilizing a few flourishes that those classic systems couldn’t pull off. Everything to the sprite work and the backgrounds is bright, colorful, and constantly doing something cool. You can tell the team at Zenovia Interactive were really trying to make a love letter to the fourth generation of consoles and it shows. The artists and designers all deserve a round of applause for this one.
Depending on your personal preferences, Steel Assault may be a little short for some. You can beat the game in about an hour, maybe even less if you’re a veteran with the 2D-platforming shooter genre. It sadly does not have very many other options beyond the main game. There are additional difficulties if you didn’t get beaten down enough during your first run and there is also an Arcade mode. This functions like many arcade modes where you get one credit (life) to complete the game. It adds at least a little but it may not be enough to keep the attention of many beyond that first hour.
If you’re someone who is looking for a quick experience and have a little extra cash burning a hole in your pocket then Steel Assault won’t disappoint. Just don’t go into it expecting a Game of the Year contender and be prepared for a fun throwback with a considerable bit of challenge slipped in for good measure.
Steel Assault is a great time if you have an hour or so to kill and want something that wears its retro influences on its sleeve. It’s stunning to look at and has some of the tightest controls of a 2D platformer on the market right now It’s one I’d recommend for anyone that still has a taste for the classics or for anyone that wants to try something new when ignoring their already overwhelming backlog.