Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action

A game by Culture Attack Studio for PC, originally released in 2013.
Most beat ‘em ups see players scrolling slowly from left to right, beating up a few thugs, and then continuing their leisurely stroll through Face Punch Village looking for the next band of ne’er-do-wells in need of a knuckle dance. Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action!, on the other hand, takes the battle to the skies with high-speed punching, heavy knock-backs, and no small amount of air-dashery.

The game’s intro tells a tale of a ninja-filled island that hosts a battle royale every 15 years in order to determine the land’s mightiest warrior. Beat ‘em ups tend to have pretty cheesy throwaway backstories, and this game is no exception. However, it also combines the narrative nonsense with a reckless disregard for punctuation, making it difficult to parse the thing into any kind of logical meaning.

Apparently, the winner of the Maximus Circuit gets a cash prize and wins the rights to the Wilder Ninja Clan’s land. For the last 500 years, the Wilders have won the competition (so they’re apparently fighting for the rights to their own land). However, Rex, an heir to the Wilder Clan, has fixed the game so that he will win, and he intends to sell the land to a company known as Ruter Corp. But there’s a second heir named Ace Wilder, and he’s going to fight everyone and show them “true maniac fighting!”

At the start of the game, the player may select from one of three characters: Ace Wilder, Gene Drift, or Eagle Morris. Ace fights with his bare hands whereas Gene uses a sword that gives him a better range. Eagle is a ninja who has a shorter sword attack but uses smoke bombs for his heavy attack, and can counterattack by tossing knives.

The game can be played in single player or 2P in local co-op. Both players may select the same character if they like, and the color of the characters’ clothing may be changed to tell them apart. Players may select from one of five difficulty levels (Calm, Sassy!, Wild!!, Maniac!!!, and Maximus!!!!), although new players are well advised to spend some time in the tutorial first, as Aces Wild does not play like your typical brawler.

Characters have a 2x jump, which is considerably higher than other games in the genre, although this supports the air-based combat design. You can also perform wall jumps and wall slides, and you can jump repeatedly to climb any vertical surface.

Next up is a dash move, which gets frequent use. You can dash in any direction, including upward, downward, and at angles, and you can dash multiple times in succession, essentially allowing you to fly to any point in the environment. You can also dash without pressing in any direction, which allows you to dash directly toward the nearest enemy, making it easier to manage the game’s largely air-based enemies.

Combat is performed primarily through the use of light and heavy attacks. The rapid punch allows you to get in multiple hits and build up a combo, which also feeds into your “wild meter”. The wild meter increases the amount of damage you can dish out… but also increases the amount of damage you receive when hit.

Your heavy attack does extra damage and knocks the enemy back, but you can hold the button to charge up your attack which grows in strength based on the wild meter. A fully charged heavy attack can do more than 10x the normal damage. This allows you to unleash maximum destruction by delivering huge hits that knock enemies into each other – which is great for crowd control – and downward slams that smack enemies down to the ground. Heavy attacks use some of your wild meter with each use, even if you miss your opponent, so they must be used strategically to be effective.

Players can also dodge enemy attacks, and mix their dodge and attack moves to counterattack. By pressing and holding the DODGE button while an enemy is attacking, the player can retaliate with a regular or heavy attack to interrupt their assault and knock them back.

Lastly, you can cash in your wild meter by pressing the PANIC button, which drains the meter completely and restores some of your health. However, each time you use this ability, the panic threshold increases, making it ever more difficult to execute (and preventing players from spamming free health restoration). The first time you use it, you only need the meter to be about 1/3 full; the second time, you need to fill the meter to half; and the third time requires the meter to be at about 2/3… requiring some pretty active combo-ing on your part. Each time you lose a life and restart, the panic level resets.

In addition to your health and wild meters, the HUD shows your current rank. Most games grade you based on how well you perform in battle, offering rewards for stringing together combos, avoiding damage, or destroying a large number of enemies. Aces Wild does this as well, but with an added twist… Unleashing heavy attacks and charged attacks will build up your rank, while getting hit and using the panic button will lower it. As your meter grows, so does the number of points gained by killing each enemy. However, a higher rank also means the enemies dish out more damage as well, similar to the system employed by God Hand (which was one of the influences for this game).

Players must operate more skillfully at higher ranks or risk having their health bars smashed into oblivion by their powered up foes. This means that the game’s difficulty scales dynamically along with your skill, offering more challenge and higher scoring opportunities to better players and lightening things up for novices, who are free to take advantage of infinite lives to mash their way through most situations… although the bosses will still kick your ass if you’re not careful.

Running counter to most games in the beat ‘em up genre, boss encounters actually require that players employ their skills rather than repeatedly slapping some giant bad guy in the face until he dies. Smashing a boss with your basic attack button does negligible damage to its health bar, but it does build up your wild meter, allowing you to break out a charged heavy attack and unleash major damage.

Players must pay attention to when a boss is telegraphing a major attack, at which point they may dash away, or possibly hit the boss with a heavy attack to interrupt it. More often than not, however, it’s best to dodge the attack and follow up with a counterattack. Boss encounters are frequent, with a number of smaller bosses spread throughout each area (although these reappear through multiple levels) and a unique major boss at the end of each area.

The game takes place over seven themed areas, although there isn’t a tremendous amount of variety in the level designs. Most of the areas are filled with concrete, metal, and brick structures with simple layouts and sharp angles. Each area has five levels and a boss encounter, and all of the levels are selectable from the start of the game.

Enemies run the range of ninjas, dogs, swordsmen, machine gunning robots, and the occasional muscle-bound tough guy. Most of these enemies are introduced in the first couple of areas and then used repeatedly throughout the game. This is fairly typical of the genre, but it leads to a great deal of repetition as you face the same enemies again and again. More difficult levels simply offer enemies in greater numbers or different configurations.

Many of the enemies have similar high-flying abilities as your own and will pursue you to just about any point in the environment. Each area locks you into a section with enemies – and often spawns in new enemies as you play – until they are all destroyed and you can move onto the next section.

Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! was developed by Tyler Doak under the label Culture Attack Studio, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Tyler was the designer, programmer, and artist for the game, and the music was provided by James Landino. Tyler’s background is in art and illustration, and he taught himself programming so that he could make video games. This was his first commercial release.