Steel Assault is a pretty simple game. You play as a badass good guy whose job is to kill the badass bad guys, and you do so by violently blowing up a lot of minions, ninjas, and mech suits with the power of a lightning whip. It’s hard. Like, really hard. And just when it feels like it’s running short on ideas, the credits roll. Sometimes that’s all you need to have fun with a game; just a few good ideas that are done extremely well. Steel Assault gets what it’s going for and doesn’t waste any more of your time, and in that respect, it’s almost impossible to dislike.

In terms of gameplay, Steel Assault plays like a more fluid, but no less difficult, take on the classic Castlevania platformers. Taro Takahashi’s main means of disposing of enemies is a super cool electric whip that dispatches most foes in a single crack, making you feel quite powerful once you get the rhythm of it down and scourge dozens of enemies in quick succession. He can fling it in eight directions and there’s a nice feeling of momentum behind each swing, as Taro takes that important brief pause after each button press to wind up before initiating the attack.

For mobility, Taro has a short double jump and a blink-and-you-miss it slide that offers up a few precious I-frames to get you through some brutal attacks. Neither of these are much help if you don’t time jumps or dodges right, but they offer just enough of a ‘fudge factor’ that you can sometimes correct near-misses. Most importantly, Taro also can use a zipline which adds a creative dimension of jumping around.

The zipline can also be shot in eight directions, but with the caveat that it only takes hold if there’s something solid on both sides as the two ends shoot away from you. So, if you happen to mistime a jump and fall into a pit, you can save yourself if you think quick enough to fire off a zipline to catch you at the last minute by latching onto the two walls. Alternatively, you can use floor-to-ceiling ziplines to gain more height faster and to give you a little more aerial maneuverability to better dodge shotgun blasts, and there are even some brutal platforming sections that necessitate chaining several of these together quickly. It seems like a small feature, but the zipline is a genuinely great feature, and helps to give Steel Assault its own unique kind of gameplay.

Now, we’d be remiss to talk about the gameplay without first warning you that this is truly a game for super players only. We’re not exaggerating when we say that nearly every second of this experience is packed with something shooting, swiping, or lunging at you, and usually you’re expected to respond to such threats while also navigating tricky stage hazards. Every level is only about two to three minutes long, but you’ll probably take a couple dozen tries to get through each before you manage to get to the next checkpoint. It’s a worthwhile experience, but one that we’d say definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.

We feel it also needs to be said that Steel Assault is a game that burns quite bright and fast. It’s memorable, challenging, and original in many ways, but we managed to clear the entire game in fifty-eight minutes. All the content here is great, and it honestly feels like Steel Assault would overstay its welcome if it lasted that much longer, but just be aware that this is not designed to be a game that you spend very long playing. Of course, if you’re really a glutton for punishment, there is a 1CC mode that tasks you with beating the whole game in one life, but that’s still only asking you to run the same content in a single gauntlet.

In case you haven’t gathered from the screenshots, Steel Assault is quite stunning in its presentation. The CRT filters are convincingly applied, and the 16-bit aesthetic is lovingly realized here. Much like how every snapshot is rife with enemies trying to kill you, there’s always quite a lot of detail and activity going on in the visuals to give you lots to take in as you struggle to survive. All this is topped off by a high-energy chiptune and metal soundtrack that is absolutely perfect for the ridiculous pace and intensity of the game.

Conclusion

Steel Assault is like a bite of an extremely delicious, well-seasoned steak. Just one bite. It lingers in your mind and makes you wish for more, yet in some respects, that’s much better than if you were given the whole thing and took it for granted. If you liked the snappy action and ridiculous difficulty of may old arcade classics, then Steel Assault is absolutely something you should look into. It’s absurd, it’s fun, it’s hard. And it’s short. It doesn’t offer up much more once you've reached the end, but what’s here is intensely well-executed, and we’d definitely recommend you give it a go.