ActRaiser Renaissance and Steel Assault: Old and New and New
A long-awaited remake and a short, amazing love letter
It's a bit of a tightrope walk, remaking something as weird and singular as Quintet's SNES masterpiece ActRaiser. See, the thing is - and for god's sake, don't take this as a criticism - neither of ActRaiser's major components are particularly excellent. The side-scrolling platforming areas are pretty much bog-standard and the intervening "sim" aspects of the game feel like the merest sketch of a grander thing. But it works. Together, these two relatively lacking elements form a breezy, hugely enjoyable game that uses each of its aspects to fill in the gaps in the other.
The fear, then, is that any remake of said game is going to somewhat miss the point by expanding on either segment in such a way that their simply purity is lost. And ActRaiser Renaissance does exactly this - both the sim and action gameplay types have been expanded and bolstered with new features. But it works. Somehow, it comes together.
It's not as good as the original game, but that was never really in question. The menu lets you switch to Yuzo Koshiro's original SNES score, because the developers must have known that nothing could possibly touch it. Koshiro re-arranged his own original tracks but, c'mon. You can't touch the OGs.
There's a lot more text in the game now, a lot more reading. The expanded sim sections merit an expanded story, to a point - the new focus is resemblant of the "tower defence" genre, much more involved and conversely less hands-on as your angel avatar is no longer able to contribute to the offensive during these segments.
It's a good game, and a good remake. It isn't a replacement for the original, it doesn't really iterate on it as much as wholesale change it, and that's fine because the polish and value here is strong. If you enjoy ActRaiser I'd recommend checking this out for a fresh take on the same, though don't expect a replication of the fun you had on the SNES original.
Steel Assault is a balls-to-the-wall action platformer from publisher Tribute (fresh from the tremendous Panzer Paladin) that aims to capture the feel of high-octane Nintendo side-scrollers and absolutely achieves this goal with aplomb. It's really rather brilliant, in fact.
Based on the screenshots you may be wondering WHERE EXACTLY I GET OFF describing this as a Nintendo-style game when it is quite clearly angling for coin-op visuals. You're right, but so am I. While it does aesthetically resemble arcade games above all else, it's the tight, challenging feel and level design of NES games that Steel Assault evokes on actually playing it.
There's a mechanic here I haven't seen before - the ability to fire horizontal wires that you can affix to surfaces and then clamber around on, hand over hand. And you'll need to, often, because there's not a lot of safe ground and a huge amount of verticality to a lot of the levels. This wire, though, does become the game's only real source of contention, in my view; early in the game its application isn't exactly obvious, and an early boss battle that requires you to drop underneath a large flying craft and wire yourself to the bottom is a bit of a leap of faith.
Once you're over that hump, though, this is a masterful little indie throwback with superb pacing, great level design and awesome boss battles. A very rare treat on both PC and Steam.