Rushdown Revolt has evolved into more than just a simple Super Smash Bros. clone, even if it’s in the same subgenre of fighting game that puts a greater emphasis on movement and platforming.
Thanks to a long-term investment in the game’s enthusiastic community, and an upcoming relaunch, Rushdown Revolt is in stronger shape than ever before. Its more involved take on the genre feels significantly better to play than its failed predecessor, Icons: Combat Arena.
The journey hasn’t been smooth, however. Developer Christopher Kovalik has spoken candidly in the past about Icons’ early trouble standing out from the pack. Since late 2019, Kovalik and a growing team at Vortex Games have worked to improve Rushdown Revolt.
“It's Smash Bros. reimagined as a competitive game for more serious players to take up,” Kovalik tells Inverse. “There’s a lot of nuances, and there’s a lot of decision-making that goes into playing the game, even though we have fewer moves and simplified and streamlined inputs versus Smash. You have way more options for what you can do.”
Now, the team is setting an example for how games and developers can learn from mistakes and recovery from rocky first impressions. The developers hope Rushdown Revolt sheds Icons’ problems while crafting a unique identity of its own.
This type of gambit was wildly successful for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but an abysmal failure for Anthem. Fortunately, Rushdown Revolt seems to be going the route of FFXIV with the launch of its latest open alpha on Steam.
Wavedashing into our hearts
Though the game looks a lot like Nintendo’s flagship crossover franchise on the surface, some key differences make Rushdown Revolt stand out. Super Smash Bros. Melee’s infamous “wavedash” mechanic that lets players move faster is just a button press away in Rushdown Revolt, making for a much faster experience. Rushdown Revolt also doesn’t use Smash Bros.’ signature percentage-based system, instead opting for a more traditional health bar.
“We have stuck to our guns about focusing on making a game that's very electric, very combo-centric, and very expressive,” Kovalik says. One of the most entertaining characters in the alpha is Ashani, a reworked fighter from Icons: Combat Arena.
She has a striking design much better than her Icons’ look with large shoulder pads and can quickly pummel opponents with a flurry of punches and kicks. She’s an accessible character that greatly emphasizes this game’s fast, combo-oriented gameplay.
Kovalik believes that Rushdown Revolt’s combat is “close to final” with the addition of a ranked mode in this latest alpha. Kovalik seems delighted about the shape the game is in, a far cry from his past regretful tone about Icons.
Communication is Key
Kovalik stresses that the game wouldn’t be where it is without its small but passionate community. He says pretty much every major decision Vortex Games makes is run by their players. The developers work in Discord and even hold debate nights with the community to discuss features.
This rapport has resulted in the implementation of new features, like the ability to walk with a shield and a combo-breaking mechanic. This approach gives the community what it wants while also differentiating the game from its stiff competition. Some gaming communities can get toxic very quickly, but Kovalik thinks his approach negates the hate that killed games like Icons: Combat Arena.
“Because we're so inviting and encouraging of feedback, all of the energy around our ecosystem is spent on trying to fix the game,” Kovalik says. “Our community doesn't have to waste so much of their energy trying to tell us to fix the game because we're making it really easy for them [to contribute].”
This focus on community is why Vortex Games funded development via Kickstarter and has held several open and closed alphas. “We’re trying to get as much feedback and iteration into this game as possible,” Kovalik says. “We know that as long as we stay true to what our players want, we're going to have something awesome when we get to the finish line.”
Indie multiplayer games like Icons often struggle to maintain engaged player bases. This approach should keep fans invested in Rushdown Revolt’s success, even if it can’t compete with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in terms of scale.
While it has a much larger player base, struggling games like Marvel’s Avengers could benefit from a development approach similar to how Vortex Games interacts with the game’s community. In the age of live service games that evolve over time, developers can often seem disconnected from their community’s wants.
These issues ultimately come from a lack of communication. Small indie games like Rushdown Revolt show the big guys that a massive scale and lack of communication doesn’t always yield the best possible experience for players.
Failed games don’t always get second chances. Just last month, EA pulled the plug on an Anthem overhaul almost two years in the making. Vortex Games is breathing new life into the body of Icons: Combat Arena with Rushdown Revolt. They have another shot at glory - albeit with a mostly new team and a renewed focus on their community.
Rushdown Revolt is available through an open alpha on Steam until March 30, 2021.