Steel Assault seems almost engineered to catch your eye the second it crosses your feed. Each pixelated scene looks at once like generic retro-gaming fodder while also bursting with vibrant colors, as if someone smashed a gumball machine and then used the pieces to craft a side-scrolling action game for the Game Boy Advance in the year 2021. I love it.
Out on PC and Switch last week, Steel Assault casts you as Taro Takahashi, who developer Zenovia Interactive describes as “a resistance soldier on a revenge mission against the dictator who lords over the ashes.” Using nothing but your classic arcade action instincts and a powerful laser whip, you battle across five chapters of hostile robots and the ambient hazards of a post-apocalyptic United States that’s drowning in the results of decades of capitalist excess.
At least that’s how I’ve chosen to read the game’s short but satisfying arc. It’s light on context and the story beats are few and far between. Washington D.C. is ablaze, factories pump out toxic waste, and the oceans have retaken New York City, where despite everything else the rent, according to one luminescent billboard, is still way too damn high. It all feels a bit The Last of Us, if you replaced the zombies with robots and the brown-scale misery-en-scene with trippy psychedelia.