Steel Assault brings 90s style arcade action to the Nintendo Switch, with a first-class audio/visual package. It also brings difficulty that, despite some admirable efforts, might only have genre enthusiasts buying it. A broader appeal Steel Assault probably doesn’t have.

The plot isn’t all that interesting, or memorable for that matter. But for a side-view action game of this style, the story is ultimately not that important as it’s largely unnecessary. How many arcade-type games have noteworthy plots? You play as a whip-wielding soldier in a sci-fi world. A world that, despite its post-apocalyptic status, looks great.

In truth, calling these visuals great might be selling them short. The presentation’s, in a word, wonderful with a capital W! Elaborate pixel art and copious vibrant colors make me long to take a break from the action and stare at the screens for a spell. To describe specific scenes in a game just five chapters long might be borderline spoiler territory, but everything impresses from start to finish.

There was a bit where I fell through the ground, but that was more an exception than a rule, where backgrounds are foreground blended. The overall visual presentation does little to generate complaints. The music is no slouch either. The soundtrack is pretty near perfect for this type of game. You won’t get sick of these highly listenable tracks, even when you hear them repeatedly. 

And hear them repeatedly, you will. It quickly becomes apparent that Zenovia Interactive had steep difficulty as a priority. I also suspect the difficulty options are based to a greater extent on their experience, not playtesters. Very Easy feels more akin to easy to normal for this genre, so it wasn’t long before I changed to that. At least until I learned the levels.

There’s an arcade mode, which I presume is a troll attempt from the devs. I’m not laughing, though. A single-life to beat the game?! If this were actually in an arcade, you’d spend your whole roll of quarters in minutes. Also, the arcade manager who set those dip switches would likely get canned. Calling it arcade conveys something it is not, so even as a gag, it’s tough not to be disappointed. Maybe if it let you keep score in true arcade fashion, it’d be more palatable, but that option is sadly missing.

Speaking of missing options, the PR I received for this game mentioned that it “promotes players to keep trying to beat their own times.” Yet, the game does not seem to record times. So again, an idea’s conveyed with no follow-up; another disappointment.

Perhaps the biggest blunder is a lack of co-op! How many retro arcade classics have Zenovia Interactive played? This inexplicable absence makes Steel Assault feel less like an arcade homage and more like a rushed release. Which isn’t the case, as the presentation shows far too much care. But, it is a game that finds its initial charm sharing space with annoyance in short order.

Returning to compliments, Steel Assault has some variety I appreciate, like the zipline. While I found it a bit awkward to use in the heat of the moment, it made for some clever platforming. There are also parts where you’re on vehicles, such as riding a boat or hanging off an aircraft. Mastering the diverse levels and finding the difficulty becoming manageable is satisfying. And, of course, will appeal to the glutton for punishment in us.

Difficulty and all, this game might take you a little over an hour. The short length actually probably works insofar it lessens potential frustration. With no co-op, scoring, or timer, replay value is subpar. The $14.99 launch price can understandably lead to hesitation, even if much (and I stress much) of the game is high quality.

Steel Assault nails its presentation, and I’m impressed more than enough that I’ll keep an eye out for Zenovia Interactive’s next release. It does need to look closer at the retro arcade classics of yesteryear that it aims to honor, though. Trading in the 1-life setup for co-op would be a wise start, as would be the addition of scoring. This gorgeous game might be better on sale, but it’s an accomplished title that does many things with skill.