Rivals of Aether: A Variation of the Super Smash Bros. Recipe?

Super Smash Brothers vs. Rivals of Aether
Two fighting games, one formula?

“Do you play [SuperSmash [Bros.]?” This question perhaps is the one bit of information needed to convince gamers to join a college gaming club today. Super Smash Bros. has left a huge impact on the gaming community—the collections of Nintendo fighters have created and monopolized an entire genre of games, evolving into a gaming culture. But how? And is there a way to duplicate Smash authentically? Rivals of Aether, a Steam-released early access game, may have done just that. Dan Fornace, the mind behind the game, states it’s fully based on the Super Smash Bros. series according to their website; so, does Aether continue the legacy of the Smash-style fighting game? Before we answer this question, we need to first explore the origins of Smash, leading to the “secret sauce” of the Smash Bros. revolution. (Thanks to JakeNoseIt for having used the term “secret sauce”.)

Ingredients of the Secret Sauce

The recipe for success lies in the game’s origins, with the original game setting the Smash standard. MeleeBrawl and the Wii U/3DS version take it upon themselves to expand the potential of Smash. Looking deeper into the features of the Smash games, there seem to be four core elements in the series that are very strong. Familiarity, game aesthetics, customization, and simplicity combine to create the series’ unique selling points.


Super Smash Bros. Melee game play, while paused. Check out Pikachu's classic Thundershock! Image from nintendolife.com.
Check out Pikachu’s classic Thundershock!

Nintendo isn’t trying to reinvent its own wheel or anything. Kirby can ingest characters and change appearance, while Pikachu can do Thundershock in battle—Nintendo fans expect these unique movesets from the playable characters. Bob-ombs, Pokéballs, and more items are also available to use during battle. And nearly every aspect of the game delivers fan service. The multitude of unlockable trophies also count as fan service, recounting Nintendo history in a way Wikipedia will never be able to do. Among Mario, Link, and Samus trophies, Clu-Clu Land, Balloon Fight, and Duck Hunt characters are also thrown in, among many other characters and items. The multitude of familiar elements bring the universes of Smash together in an epic way, finally answering the “when are the Nintendo worlds going to combine?” question from fans.

Game Aesthetics

Some action in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Look at that denim on Mario! Image from gengame.net.
Look at that denim on Luigi! Not to mention the shine on Samus’ armor or the detail on Link’s sheath.

Visually, the series’ appearance is given lots of attention. The Nintendo 64 game has smooth animations, yet the chunkiness of the characters were increasingly smoothed out in later games. Now, it’s surprising how noticeable it is that Luigi is wearing denim overalls! All of the game’s assets have evolved into fleshed-out, colorful, and visually-appearing versions of themselves. The action does move rather fast, but Smash has built in a way for players to appreciate the artistry. In many fighting games, pausing brings up a menu box in the middle of the screen. The Smash menu options are placed on the outer edges of the screen, where the standard word “pause,” can be seen, as well as the controls to resume the game, or quit the game. The game camera can be rotated to view different angles, zoom, and even take snapshots (in Brawl). Characters could make hilarious faces and strike poses mid-attack or after being hit, such as in the photo of Luigi shown above, to remember that epic moment when “that one character had done that one thing.” Paused games are often humorous to look at, if the person pausing the game times the action at just the right moment. The general aesthetics of Smash shouldn’t be glossed over at all, nor should its pause camera.


Blue Kirby? Sure! Image from gamesradar.com.
Blue Kirby? Sure, why not?

The casual, the competitive, the inexperienced, and anyone else can customize their in-game experience to their liking. With over fifty characters to choose from today, there are over fifty movesets that players could potentially learn, and several ways to find that comfortable playing niche. Changing the classic character outfits, battling with up to eight people as singles or teams, setting a time limit, and setting life counters are only some of the possible ways to instantly relieve boredom from playing over and over. There’s a plethora of stages available, and the availability of any item in battle can be changed. It’s no wonder tournaments can become quite interesting. The single player modes are just as good as multiplayer. Since Melee, it’s possible to face gigantic enemies or armies of them, as well as several other types of challenges. Even if your friends are ill, the game is still worth exploring as a single player. The multitude of ways one can interact with this game allow for a very large, diverse audience. Anyone could pick up a controller and play along, no matter the level of gaming experience or ability.


Smash does a great job at settings players up for success; newcomers can join in without too much difficulty. Unlike traditional fighting games, memorizing lengthy combinations or engaging in button-pushing madness isn’t necessary to win. Attacking your opponents is simplified to using at most two or three buttons, adapted over time to GameCube and the Wii U. Easing the amount of controls needed to play helps everyone learn to play quickly, and have a good time in the process.

How do the values of Smash match up with Aether?

Image from rivalsofaether.com.
The four title characters, from left to right, Wrastor, Zetterburn, Orcane, and Kragg.


The Rivals of Aether logo highlighting the four prevailing elements. Image from rivalsofaether.com.
The Rivals of Aether logo highlighting four nations (elements) at war.

Aether is a new world, but there’s still elements we’d recognize from our planet. Rivaling nations of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth? Avatar: The Last Airbender is a prime example of how the foursome are featured in modern culture. Minus water, the other three elements make up the name of a “shining star” band from the 1970s. The characters represent their respective elements very nicely; looking at the picture shown directly above the previous paragraph, one could tell the dolphin-like character on the bottom right hand corner (Orcane) represents water, and the bird-like character on the top left (Wrastor) represents air. In battle, Zetterburn delivers powerful fiery attacks, and Kragg can throw boulders. Aether is new, but hasn’t invented concepts that aren’t familiar.

Game Aesthetics

Image from rivalsofaether.com
Orcane (left) and Forsburn (top) face off against Maypul (second from left) and Wrastor (right).

The visuals don’t have those smooth contours as in Smash, but the art style is very detailed and interesting to look at. It’s an allusion to twenty-five cent arcade games, using joystick and button combinations to take down the opponent. Though this game has much more fluid action sequences; melted butter might come to mind when describing the game’s smooth animations. There’s a lot to see, but also just as much to hear; the dynamic original soundtrack is worth listening to, both on and off the playing field.


Image from smashboards.com.
Kragg used Rock Hurl and Earth Pillar while battling an interestingly-colored Zetterburn.

Kragg has the skill to create a pillar of rock ascending to his position, and Forsburn can create a duplicate himself. Wrastor can actually quadruple jump when needed. Each character has unique abilities and powers that leave players to decide for themselves what element to crush their enemies with. Not only are the players unique in their specialties, but have specific roles in the game’s story mode (Rivals Mode). Smash assumes that players know the stories behind the Nintendo world, but Aether needs to make it clear there is unrest in Aether, and reasons for it. Those who want to test their skills alone might consider Abyss Mode or Abyss Versus to fight waves of various types of enemies. Versus Mode brings friends together, and then immediately places them against each other for an epic showdown. Hopefully, by this point in the article, your friends are feeling better and will want to face off with you in an Aether showdown.


Image from videogamesuncovered.com.
Zetterburn packs a fiery punch to the equally-skilled Orcane.

Aether does a fantastic job at condensing the game to feature its most important elements: the characters. As compared to over fifty characters in the latest version of Smash, there are only six playable characters. (This number has already grown to seven, and more are expected.) Having a large amount of characters in Smash works since the Nintendo universe has already been established, yet in Aether, the characters are new and need to make a good impression quickly. No button-pushing madness is required in this game either; each character is given only three moves. Combinations of moves are easy to perform, and can really increase your opponents’ damage counters. Limiting the palette of moves, like in Smash, helps in keeping the game easy to learn and fun to play for everyone. Less rivals and less moves may mean less choice, but more time to understand the game as a whole.

What does this all mean?

Rivals of Aether matches up closely with the Super Smash Bros. series in that players can relate to elements of the game, the aesthetics are superb, and the controls are simple. Aether follows a similar blueprint to Smash, but the art style, number of characters, and its storyline set itself apart from the Nintendo quartet. The game, though not fully released, should graciously accept the Smash-fighter title as an independent game for XBox One. One opinion is great, but many more will make all the difference; what are your thoughts about Super Smash Bros. or Rivals of Aether? How does Aether compare to Smash?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. i honestly cant go back to smash after playing this game the movement is so much more swift and fluid

  2. jeanmarrie

    It’s great, and I’m a huge melee player.

  3. Spalding

    Im definitely gunna try this game out. Always loved smash. but im rly likeing the differences this game has to offer. I wouldnt have known about it if it wasnt for you.

  4. The art style reminds me of pokemon, or is that just me?

    • washo

      Thanks for reading! I agree- it’s got more simplicity to it. It reminds me of Pokemon Gold/Silver where you can see some of the individual pixels still. Very retro-looking!

  5. jack noel

    This game is my very first steam purchase! Hope it’s worth it.

  6. Reminds me of Super Smash Flash a bit.

  7. I’ve never heard of this game till now, but it looks awesome.

  8. So this is basically a budget Smash?

    • washo

      Thanks for reading! In a way, yes, but not really. It could be considered a fan-made game at a very broad level considering the creator directly based his game on Smash. Though while Smash relies on characters, Aether relies on story, which fundamentally separates the two. Check it out on YouTube! Feel free to disagree with me.

    • I see it as a way to play a game that is similar, if not better, than Melee, that doesn’t require you to find a 14 year old game and a 14 year old system to play it on, as well as finding a CRT TV.

  9. Leo Keys

    I’ve bought the game before reading this article, and im not really sure what to feel about it yet.

    • washo

      Thanks for reading! This is an early access game at the moment, so maybe there’ll be improvements with the full version that you might like. I’m sure Smash had backlash too when it was released. Feel free to discuss your opinions.

  10. YsabelGo

    What attracted me to Super Smash Bros is the fact that it’s a crossover of fandoms that I like. Crossovers get me excited, especially if I know the characters. I also found it enjoyable when I had my friends come over and we all played Smash together. I’m not sure if I will give Aether a try, because I am unfamiliar with the characters.

    But it was nice to read an article that analyzes Smash’s formula, and how it is being presented in this new Steam game. Great job!

    • washo

      I’m with you there; crossovers are really neat and that also got my interest started in Smash. The creator of Aether also really loved Smash and wanted to change it based on the way he played, so on a large scale, it’s similar to a fan-made game. To me, that’s why it was worth checking out. Thanks for reading, glad you liked it!

  11. Smash also has a hand in the evolution of it’s characters. The original has the first 3D model of Donkey Kong almost a full year before Rare’s Donkey Kong 64.

  12. washo

    That’s definitely true! A really good point; the game’s been so loyal to its fans. We’ll have to see if the Aether characters follow suit. Thanks for reading!

  13. Slaidey

    I’ve tried playing Rivals of Aether but compared to Smash it is definitely for more advanced players (which is why they focused on enhancing and complicating the mechanics). Sure, noobs can play together and have a fun time, but as soon as you start facing off against others online there’s a high chance you’ll get matched with someone far beyond your skill level. If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s super easy to get punished with relentless combos. This is perhaps only because I played in the early access stages where everyone who did purchase it were try-hard enthusiasts haha.
    It’s awesome that they introduced wave dashing, but I personally find the counters too hard to pull off. The timing has to be just right whereas in Smash you get a shield that will last a duration of time then deplete. Rivals of Aether sure takes the training wheels off!

    • washo

      Very interesting to know. There’s always going to be a player that’s better than you online, for sure. It’s definitely a game that seems to favor Smash players slightly more- the controls took me some time getting used to also. Thanks for reading!

  14. This game looks amazing. I’m sold.

  15. I am a HUGE melee fan and have been in the competitive scene for quite some time now. Im really happy to read about this game. Thank you!

    • washo

      Glad you enjoyed reading about Aether. It can get quite competitive- as Slaidley put it, the training wheels are definitely off. Thanks for checking out the article!

  16. rodrigues

    Great another awesome game i cant afford, cheers for Venezuela Currency Control

    • washo

      Sorry to hear. That must be rough, though there’s some great Let’s Play videos on Youtube to watch and still enjoy its existence. Thanks for reading!

  17. Chet Seaman

    This game looks really good to me, but I have never ever come close to a smash bros game but I would really like to try this.

  18. washo

    Definitely! You should! It’s a learning process, but once you’ve had some time playing you’ll most likely get the hang of the controls. Or, wait until the full version comes out for XBox. Thanks for reading!

  19. I love this game already and i cant wait to get into competitive.

  20. Back in high school I worked with the creator of Rivals of Aether, Dan Fornace, on an early version of this game. We spent hours working and reworking pixel art sprites and discussing ideas of game development. I used to be a devout xboxer. Now, of course! My old friend releases his stellar new game and I’ve got a PS3 sitting beneath my TV irritating and infuriating me with endless pay to play updates of Destiny. I might have to trade in my PS3 and get back in the X games. Glad to see my man Dan is making real moves in the gaming community. Rock on Fornace! Looking forward to stomping you online in your own game 😉

  21. Excited to check this out, thanks for the recommendation!

  22. washo

    Definitely worth taking a look at. Thanks for reading!

  23. How does this rival to say Brawlhalla?

  24. washo

    I don’t know too much about Brawlhalla, but from what I know, it’s more similar to Smash because in-battle items are available, as there are no items in Aether. Though if you’re comparing to Aether, I’d say it’s catered more to the multiplayers out there. Aether spends a little more time to really focus on its story, which might lend itself more for single playing. This could make for an interesting Artifice article someday. Feel free to add your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

  25. I have yet to play this but it looks interesting. I think its refreshing to see an established formula be tackled in a different style.

    • washo

      Definitely agree with you. What’s really cool is that this guy is a HUGE fan of Smash, but made this game to reflect on how it could be better. An interesting twist on “fan service.” Thanks for reading!

  26. Tatijana

    I never really got into these games… and that’s probably because I’m terrible at them. I’m a terribly ungracious loser.. so I just stopped playing against people haha. But I’d be interested in single player modes!

    • washo

      These kinds of games are difficult in multiplayer, for sure. But that’s the beauty of expanding these games to single player: it’s a whole new audience you can design for. It’d be cool to play through this game’s single player in it’s entirety, it sounds so interesting, almost like a complete second game. Thanks for reading!

  27. So I’ve been a Smash fan since the first installment on 64, and I still avidly play the newest installment in the series (Smash Bros for 3DS). You have spoken many truths of the series. It is immensely deep and the competition, learning new characters, new play styles, and trying to figure out your opponents, will always keep me and the tons of Smash fans out there excited to play more.

    I also own Rivals of Aether. When I heard about this game, I was indeed very excited. I had no intention of replacing my Smash playtime with it, but I wanted to try it out. As the creators explained, they took the more competitive aspects of Smash and polished them into a fast-paced fighting game of the same nature. I’ll have to admit that it is a lot of fun, but at the end of the day, I’ll still put more hours into Smash for the appreciation I have for Nintendo and for the series.

    Nevertheless, I would still recommend Aether to anyone who is a fan of the Smash series, but especially for those who really want to dig into the competitive spirit of it.

    • washo

      Cool! Thanks for your thoughts! I still can’t decide which I like better, but I would definitely choose a different game depending on how competitive I want to be. Thanks for reading!

  28. As a Smash enthusiast this has piqued my interest.

  29. Definitely nailed the description of Smash on the head. While I never got passed the casual stage, a single match of Melee (15 years after its release, might I add) was enough to truly show me what this series was about. I highly recommend watching the Smash Brothers Documentary Series to anyone that hasn’t already, as it provides an incredible glimpse at what professional Smash is like. Maybe Rivals of Aether will be able to match it!

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