Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Quarters not included - Iron Fisticle

As I said before on the blog, I'm OK with games being retro or nostalgic, but I really prefer it when a game mimics something besides old 8 and 16-bit Nintendo Systems. Something I don't see done too often is surprisingly enough, arcade games. That's not to say people aren't making arcade-style games, plenty of those exist in modern gaming, at least form a gameplay standpoint. It's rare however that I see something that really tries to nail the look and feel of those old 80s and 90's coin-op arcade games.

Iron Fisticle is a twin stick shooter that feels like it belongs in an arcade. You - and optionally a buddy in local co-op, sorry, no online - fight through single screen levels, collecting random powerups and facing massive hordes of enemies and bosses in a quest to reach the #1 spot on the high scores list. There's a story told via a simple cutscene at the start of the game, But like many old arcade games, the story is simple an excuse to go run around an shoot things.
Iron Fisticle certainly looks like an old arcade game.
As an arcade game, Iron Fisticle plays quite nicely. Controls are nice and responsive, and you have a decent selection of weapons to work with. including most importantly the Iron Fisticle itself. It works like a bomb, killing all enemies near you when you use it, but you only have a few uses of it at the start of the game, and more can be tricky to find. you also have a dash, which is useful for quickly getting out of tight spaces. One small issue I had with the game was that the games controls default to using the analog sticks, It's not horrible, but the game only has 8 directional movement and firing so there's no  real advantage to analog controls. Fortunately, for those like me who'd rather use the d-pad and face buttons on their controller you can readily remap the keys. you could also play with a keyboard but this is honestly a game that works best with some form of controller.

As an arcade game, Iron Fisticle has a lot of random power ups and scoring items to collect, and this is easily one of the games best features, there's over 150 different items to collect, most are things like flowers or food that gives points, but there's also several weapons, like hammers that bounce off walls, or arrows that give you a 3-way shot. Some items even have more interesting abilites, like BONUS letters, that instantly finish a stage and drop a ton of scoring items when you get a full set, or 7 gems that can give you a powerful rainbow weapon for one room. There's even a set of hint books, that give gameplay tips you can read in the game's ledger which tracks all the items you've found, and gives a description for each of them.
occasionally, you get to play a little side scrolling mini-game to earn some extra coin.
While the game is an arcade game at it's core, there's are a couple of new ideas thrown in for good measure. one of them is randomly generated levels which unfortunately is a mixed bag. levels are mostly open, empty arenas, with maybe a wall or two to help break things up. The random generator can change the placement of these things but for the most part there's nothing to make any one stage massively different from the others. It does however, work by randomizing the location of special stages and shops or mini games on each of the game's four floors, which wile it doesn't make each playthrough massively different, is enough to keep the game at least slightly unpredictable.

The other major feature of the game is an RPG-style stat and level system which actually works. you have several stats that control things like attack strength and movement speed, and random pwoerups can give you bonuses to them that last throughout the game, you can even buy permenant upgrades from the between-stage shops that let you start the next game with higher stats. Meanwhile, as you level up, you unlock things like new weapons, or higher maximum stats. It's enough to keep things interesting, and while it doesn't take too long ot reach max level, the game allows you to keep leveling past that, dropping a set of powerups and scoring items whenever you level up again. I'll note however, that while it adds a good bit to the game and helps keep things interesting, the leveling and stat system is very simplistic. You character can get a good bit stronger and unlock some extra powerups, but you won't learn any new abilities or anything else that would drastically change the game beyond the basic running and shooting.
Between some stages, you can buy powerups and items at shops like this.
Graphically, the game uses very detailed pixel art. Backed up by some simple lighting effects, including a little colored lighting in some places. the game does a good job of looking like an old arcade game, down to the optional scanlines. There's even a bordered off area to the side of the screen for player information, along with a prompt for a second player to join in. The game's 4 floors unfortunately don't look radically different from each other, it's not a major issue, since you'll usually be too busy running and shooting to readily notice the scenery,but it would of the environments were radically different, rather than simple variations of underground dungeon.

The game has a chiptune soundtrack that fits the game nicely enough. It does a good job of setting the mood though suffers form being fairly small. you'll be hearing a lot of the same music over and over again. The games sound design is equally minimal, The only sounds you'll hear for the most part are picking up items and firing your weapon. Beyond that there's not much. Surprisingly, there's no sound for when enemies fire at you. Shooting enemies are pretty rare and the bullets large and bright enough that it's not a massive issue, but the lack of audio cue is strange.
In an emergency, the Iron Fisticle can punch a good hole in the crowd.
The game doesn't suffer from any major bugs, outside of one weird issue I encountered. The game doesn't do anything to stop my PC's screensaver from activating. But it doesn't show the screensaver, instead, the game freezes and the sound stops until I move the mouse. If you try the game for yourself, I'd recommend giving the mouse the occasional wiggle between stages, and if the game seems to freeze remember to try the mouse first, in case it's just the screensaver activating.

Overall, this game is maybe a bit rough around the edges. The leveling system doesn't last too long, random levels aren't all that random and with only four floors, there's only 4 bosses to fight. But what the game does right it does really well. This is a really good throwback to old arcade games like Gauntlet or Smash TV an is well worth a look if you like those classic arcade games.

Iron Fisticle was developed by Confused Pelican and published by Curve Digital. It is available on Steam. It's homepage is available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment