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Rivals of Aether is like a beautiful, indie version of Super Smash Bros.

Rivals of Aether could be the indie answer to Super Smash Bros.

If you've ever played or seen a round of Nintendo's fighting franchise, it will feel familiar. Rivals of Aether is a party fighting game built for up to four players. You choose a character, you pick a stage, and then you proceed to whale on your friends with glee.

The comparison isn't lost on Dan Fornace, the game's designer and a former competitive Smash player. But where it really sets itself apart, he says, is in its speed and emphasis on combos. During my first match with Fornace, I picked Zetterburn, a lion who uses fire-based attacks — each character has some sort of elemental theme. Zetterburn's special move allows him to set enemies on fire, which in turn makes them weak targets for some prime punchin'.

On round two, I opted for Wrastor, a purple bird in a classy scarf. Wrastor was a little more tricky for me to get the handle on. When Fornace talks about the speed of the game, I see it more in Wrastor's moves. But the payoff for wrangling such a quick character is obvious, and his special attack — a move in which he spins into a tornado — made me a lethal force. Well, until I charged too fast for my own good and stumbled off the stage.

Rivals of Aether is heading to Xbox One and PC via Steam before the year's end. Fornace said the game will launch first as an Early Access title this August.

"This game is my chance to make it play the way I would want it to play," Fornace said, speaking about this time as a competitive Smash Bros. player. "I always liked Melee, but I'm not as technical as the guys who win tournaments. This game is aggressive and fast, but you don't have to put as much time into it to do sweet combos."