If you slam a retro-style run-and-gun title in my face, I’m GOING to play it – especially when it looks as awesome as Steel Assault. I only had to take one look at the gameplay to be all-in and had a big smile wrapped across my face as I played through it. It has epic 16-bit visuals, it’s packed to the brim with action, and it left me pulling my hair out at times thanks to its tough difficulty… basically, it’s everything I wanted from an old-school action title.
I don’t think it’s too necessary to go into depth about the narrative of Steel Assault. In a nutshell, you play as the scarred badass Taro Takahashi as he ventures across a myriad of deadly locales, all whilst taking down countless enemies on his way to defeating the villainous General Magnus Pierce. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that and the game does include scenes that flesh out the narrative a little, but there’s no doubting that the story plays second fiddle to the game’s manic action.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
At its core, Steel Assault is very old-school in design. Players will traverse across linear levels, all whilst slicing down enemies and all-sorts of creative bosses, navigating through platforming challenges by running, jumping, and sliding, and using every trick up their sleeve to keep safe from the constant onslaught of attacks and hazards found in each level. It’s just the like the action games you would have played on your Mega Drive or SNES, and it is glorious.
Taro’s choice of weapon is an electric whip that can be lashed out across multiple directions, with enemies typically only taking one-hit to take down. This ensures the momentum of each level never comes to a halt, with players able to flow their running, jumping, and attacks into an impressive string of combos that never breaks the pace. Taro also has a zip-line grappling hook, which can be deployed to keep him safe from potential pitfalls or to blast him both vertically and horizontally across levels. Its use is vital to progressing through the game, especially in levels where the speedy approach is required because of some form of impending doom. Be warned though: it can only be used if it can latch onto a solid surface on each end, meaning you’ve got to carefully plan out where and when you want to use it.
“It’s just the like the action games you would have played on your Mega Drive or SNES, and it is glorious.”
Both Taro’s electric whip and zip-line grappling hook are simple ideas in design, but they really lend themselves well to the quick-paced nature of the gameplay. It’s easy to understand everything that Steel Assault expects of the player, whilst it’s always satisfying to experiment and see how to utilise your tools in more effective ways. Levels are designed to complement your zip-line too, whether that’s by encouraging vertical exploration or putting you in pulsating set pieces where you have to time the use of your zip-line perfectly if you want to survive.
The only flaw with this was that there could be some minor inconsistencies when using it. There was one occasion where the zip-line didn’t attach to an obstacle that it had previously attached to, whilst there were a couple of times where it felt especially difficult to nail the timing right. Of course, that could be down to my own lacking skills, but there were a few instances where I felt that I wasn’t to blame…
Minor inconsistences aside, Steel Assault never stops being fun to play. It helps that the level design is so varied and manic, with players moving between individual areas that are full of non-stop chaos and destructive set pieces. You’re never doing the same thing for too long in the game, with the developer seemingly picking out some of the finest moments from across the best action titles of the 16-bit era and meshing them together into one insanely chaotic experience. With plenty of different challenges to face, enemies to destroy, and boss battles to unleash hell upon, no second of Steel Assault ever feels short of thrilling.
“You’re never doing the same thing for too long in the game, with the developer seemingly picking out some of the finest moments from across the best action titles of the 16-bit era and meshing them together into one insanely chaotic experience.”
It also just so happens to be as tough as nails. It’s par for the course really given the old-school stylings of the game, but Steel Assault will really test your 2D run-and-gun skills with its constant onslaught of enemies and hazards. The screen will always be full of things that can kill you, whilst it can be overwhelming to deal with the blitz of attacks when also trying to pull off pixel-perfect jumps or hit out your zip-line at the exact same time.
I suffered plenty of deaths when playing and it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. You know what, though? It NEVER got frustrating, with each death just making your inevitable success all the more sweeter. Steel Assault isn’t designed to be unfair with its difficulty, but instead simply challenges the player to learn how to best utilise Taro’s skillset and how to handle each obstacle in their path. It’ll constantly feel like it’s throwing the kitchen sink at you, but it never feels unbeatable.
It is worth noting that there are multiple difficulties on offer though, so you can certainly find something that suits you. There are checkpoints in levels on most difficulties too, so it’s not as if death will set players back too far. Just watch out for some of the harder difficulty settings of the game – even I wasn’t brave enough to try and tackle those.
“I’m a big fan of 16-bit visuals so it ticked plenty of boxes for me, whilst the rich variety of locations that you travel across ensure that you’re always looking at something different when wreaking havoc.”
I’ve got to give a shout out to the presentation of Steel Assault, with its gleaming pixel art lovingly crafted and looking sublime from start to end. I’m a big fan of 16-bit visuals so it ticked plenty of boxes for me, whilst the rich variety of locations that you travel across ensure that you’re always looking at something different when wreaking havoc. It’s packed to the brim with vibrant colours throughout and is just a real treat on the eyes.
It is short though, with my initial playthrough taking just over an hour to clear. Of course, this will vary depending on how often you die, but it’s certainly not an overly lengthy experience. That’s not a bad thing though, with Steel Assault never feeling like it outstays its welcome or that it starts to run out of ideas – it packs everything it needs to in that short time. There isn’t a whole lot to keep players coming back for more post-completion though (unless they’re insane and want to take on the tougher difficulties), so it’s something that’s worth bearing in mind if you were hoping for a meatier adventure.
Steel Assault Summary
Steel Assault is a thrilling old-school adventure that’s an absolute blast to play from start to finish. The level design is slick and brings with it plenty of variety, Taro’s electric whip and zip-line grappling hook are incredibly satisfying to use, whilst the vibrant 16-bit visuals are gorgeous and varied throughout… what more could you want from a retro-style run-and-gun adventure?
It is guilty of being a little short, but it never outstays its welcome. If you want an old-school adventure that’s chaotic, fun, and tough as nails, you should look no further than Steel Assault.
Publisher: Tribute Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC