Steel Assault is a retro-inspired 2D platformer that features fluid yet challenging gameplay that Metal Slug and Contra players should find familiar. The intense gameplay, paired with sharp graphics and incredible level design should make Steel Assault one of the most memorable games in the genre. Still, its extremely short completion time and lack of new content to explore after the first playthrough hold it back.
The story follows resistance fighter Taro Takahashi as he embarks on a revenge mission against dictator Magnus Pierce and his army. Steel Assault takes you through beautiful, war-torn environments that bring the game to life, while also preserving the retro feel of classic arcade games with its 16-bit style. While there is little storytelling, the game’s short cutscenes and visuals do just enough to give you a reason to go fight enemies. Naturally, the gameplay is much more important in these types of games and, thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.
All you need is a whip and a zipline
Taro is equipped with an electric whip that you can fling in eight directions. Picking up certain power-ups will temporarily improve your whip and help deal devastating blows to waves of enemies. You also have a grapple that lets you zipline to reach higher platforms, avoid traps, or evade certain attacks. While it seems like an unnecessary addition at first, the grapple does become an essential tool that you must master in the later stages of the game. This is especially true in areas where you must climb upwards onto moving platforms with enemies swarming you from all directions.
Apart from that, Taro has access to the basic abilities you can find in most video games nowadays such as double jump, slide, and crouch. While the controls and moves are simple to use and fairly straightforward, it’s necessary to learn when and how to use them to crush your enemies. As such, you’ll quickly learn that button mashing won’t get you anywhere.
The core gameplay loop is similar to that of Souls-likes where you must use trial and error to memorize the enemies in every area and move on to the next checkpoint. The main difference is that Steel Assault is much more generous with checkpoints, so you only lose one or two minutes of progress when you die. Also, every section introduces new enemy types, forcing you to constantly switch up your playstyle and experiment with different approaches.
More difficult than it seems
I found Steel Assault to be slightly on the tougher side when playing on normal mode. While some sections can be easily cleared on your first attempt, others force you to constantly reevaluate your strategy and make use of all of Taro’s abilities. In addition, the bosses at the end of each chapter put up one hell of a fight. They gave me some trouble at first. Of course, the best way to progress through the game would be to constantly practice, but there are cheap ways to win as well. Although I would highly advise against it, you could just focus on attacking and completely ignore incoming projectiles. This method can help you outperform certain bosses in terms of damage per second, while rapidly depleting their health bars.
Cheap tactics won’t work in the final boss fight where you’ll have to rely fully on your skills, though. Not only is the fight noticeably more difficult than the others, but some attacks are almost impossible to avoid, making the encounter borderline unfair. Also, having to rewatch the same cutscene over and over again made the experience even more grueling.
I was able to complete my first playthrough in just over 50 minutes on normal difficulty. While this may seem too short for a $15 USD game, Steel Assault is meant to be played several times, especially for those looking for a challenge. The game does have some replay value thanks to the inclusion of expert mode and the impossibly difficult 1-credit-clear Arcade Mode. The latter requires you to complete the game without dying, or else you have to restart from the beginning.
Steel Assault takes inspiration from some of the best 2D side scrollers and offers exactly what you would expect from such a game. It is filled to the brim with intense fights that require high levels of focus and determination — even at the normal difficulty. Everything, from the gameplay and visuals to level design, is executed well. The game doesn’t really have any major issues. However, the game is way too short for its own good and doesn’t offer any new content after completing your first playthrough. Those looking for more to do will have to settle for higher difficulty modes, which can certainly inflate your playtime, but likely won’t appeal to casual players. Nonetheless, with Steel Assault, you’re getting a polished and entertaining side-scroller that doesn’t compromise on quality.