We need to talk about Aces Wild. It's an indie beat 'em up made by this dude Tyler Doak. He lives in Wyoming and is a programmer, artist, and designer all rolled up into one magnificent man. He very recently released Aces Wild on his personal website (for an unbeatable $10 USD) and I snatched it right up. After thorough scrutiny I have determined it is a game of tremendous importance. In order to understand why, check out this timeline I made of the 4 ages of beat 'em ups. It describes the age's distinctions and also contains most of the notable entries of each age. It'll help you understand what I'm getting at when I say that Aces Wild's purity, elegance, and carbon integrity make it the very champion of second age beat 'em up sensibilities, and I would go so far as to say it marks the age's glorious end. Please read on.
I've categorized Aces Wild as a second age beat 'em up because it forgoes third age sensibilities completely and is much more traditional in its presentation and style. But it is far from simple or primitive or shallow! Let's get into this.
- First and foremost, Aces Wild has only 7 distinct inputs. Move, jump, attack, crash attack, dash, dodge, and panic. The movement is fast and attractive, the jump feels good and has crazy coverage (which in Aces Wild is appropriate), the regular attack is rapid and satisfying, the crash attack is super powerful and spectacular, the dash is highly functional, the dodge is fun and elegant, and the panic is brilliant. I'll talk about panic a little later.
- Animations are good! They're few in frame but high in quality.
- The impact and screen effects are totally over the top and completely appropriate.
"Staying at high Wild is just about one of the most thrilling things I've done in a combat system since discovering and learning to utilize Nero's Red Queen manual full rev in Devil May Cry 4 i.e. one of my favorite high level systems ever."
- Aces Wild has actually evolved the air game. Actually, that is an understatement; Aces Wild's whole game is air game. The ground doesn't even matter! Not since Otogi has an action game kept the player off the earth and in the sky, and even Otogi's mobility pales in comparison to Aces Wild. You can dash in any direction and continuously jump, but you can also drift in any direction while mashing. It's bizarrely comfortable yet satisfying.
- Aces Wild has this thing called the Wild Meter. It is fucking brilliant and one of the most thrilling developments in recent action game history! The way it works is that it fills up while you mash and as it fills, you do more damage and you take more damage. You can kill a little bit of your wild meter with crash attacks and continuous dashing, or you can utilize the previously mentioned panic system which removes all of your wild but restores all of your health. Staying at high Wild is just about one of the most thrilling things I've done in a combat system since discovering and learning to utilize Nero's Red Queen manual full rev in Devil May Cry 4 i.e. one of my favorite high level systems ever.
- Dashing around looks and feels awesome, and using it to be exactly where you need to be at all times is exactly what a mechanic like that SHOULD be. Canceling a dash with a crash attack and successfully bouncing an enemy all over the screen and taking out others enemies is a power fantasy wet dream. And speaking of bouncing enemies...
- Somehow, enemies bouncing all over the screen actually works. It happens so fast it doesn't fuck with your flow and this is wonderful. And actually using the bouncing properties of enemy is its own game; bouncing a boss around and then catching their flying body (shield's satisfyingly destroyed) with a perfectly executed dash makes a single tear stream down my face.
- The dodge is not only well implemented, but its a functional and elegant component of the moment to moment gameplay. If you hold the dodge button and successfully avoid an attack, you can do an overpowered attack that does a lot of damage and opens the space around your character. The best part of this system is that the game always positions projectile enemies on the outside of melees so you can perform constant dodge counters. You'll initially find this annoying and want to eliminate these enemies, but then you realize that as long as they're there you can constantly punish your close range enemies. It's so unbelievably genius it makes me want to weep.
"...bouncing a boss around and then catching their flying body (shield's satisfyingly destroyed) with a perfectly executed dash makes a single tear stream down my face."
- There's not a lot of enemies but every one of them has a very simple and clear purpose, and being good at the game means keeping a tight mental folder of what every enemy on the screen means for you defensively AND offensively. Purple ninja? Cannon fodder/knife thrower. Orange ninja? Bad timing punishment. Drones? Rapid projectile. And etc.
- The bosses are crazy fun! They're very fast and very punitive and require an airtight performance which I personally find thrilling. That is what bosses are meant to be.
- User interface wise, everything is instant.
- There are none. There's a reason diamonds are diamonds; there is no room in their molecular structure for error.
You very very badly need to own this game and whittle your brain on its gleaming razor edges. It is the very embodiment of the second age beat 'em up and if you liked any of those, Aces Wild will dump purified joy right into your system. Furthermore, it will not waste a single second of your living time doing it. For what it's worth, it has fully replaced my copy of DMC4 on PC as my go to "Time to have some fun and blow off some steam game". I've been using DMC4's Bloody Palace for this purpose since 2008 and now it has been dethroned. That's how serious this is.