FIST OF AWESOME (PC) review
- Straightforward, old-school beat-em-up fun
- Humour keeps the storyline from becoming dull
- Arena mode great for short bursts of play, and will probably longevity
Not so much?
- Windowed mode only looks strange at best, and lost on a larger screen
- Repeating enemy types and simple controls risk repetitiveness on longer sessions
- Promised extra features for the PC and Mac version are not in place
FIST OF AWESOME is a title to play in short bursts, fitting for a game coming from mobile systems. Gamers who remember the titles of the late 80s should receive a burst of nostalgia from the pixelated graphics and chiptune soundtrack; and far more encouragingly also find that this genre is still enjoyable.
Some genres seem to have been left back in the 90s. Improving technology has refined driving games, platformers, even one-vs-one fighters; but some game types seem to have lost out, and the side scrolling beat-em-up is one of them. It may have provided us legendary titles such as Double Dragon and Final Fight, but seemed to run out of steam in the mid-90s when the move to 3D began, and that makes FIST OF AWESOME – newly released for PC and Mac – so much more refreshing.
(And yes, the title is actually in full capital letters – understatement does not come quickly to a game about fighting bears from a developer called I Fight Bears)
Having played the game at last year’s EGX London on the iPad (where the touch screen controls worked well despite instinct telling you it’s the sort of game for a joypad), it provided one part nostalgia for a lost genre, and two parts satisfaction that these games were still fun. In the time since, its initial release for Ouya made it one of the strongest titles for the microconsole, with iOS, Android and Gamestick versions all available too.
But the question is how does a game designed for these devices stand up on a PC? And the answer has to be “pretty well, actually”.
Taking control of lumberjack Tim Burr (and that pun alone probably gives you a good idea of the game’s level of humour), your idyllic world in the forests is shattered when time is damaged. This leads to the dominance of intelligent – and violent – bears over everything, supported by tetchy deer, elk that are presumably irked, and several other animals that have developed homicidal tendencies.
Thankfully your hand is possessed by the disembodied Fist of Awesome, gaining the ability to speak and guiding you towards fixing the chaos. And the fix does of course involve fighting off hordes of aggressive anthropomorphised creatures.
Combat is relatively simple. You can punch, kick, grapple, stomp, perform jump kicks and – in homage to Renegade - back kicks. Your health will regenerate if you avoid taking damage for a few moments which eases the experience, but this is only part of the process.
Scoring is the key, with successive blows getting combo bonuses, and a short window to string together enemies into prolonged bonuses. This score is then interpreted into XP at the end of each level (or if you die), allowing Tim to level up, applying bonus stat points rewarded into various areas. This also works as a form of legacy play, with the bonuses carried from game-to-game, or into the alternate arena mode.
And this mode may be where the game will find its longevity. While the main game is pretty straightforward – three difficulty levels to unlock, and perhaps just over an hour to run through (which can be broken down thanks to checkpoints) – the alternate arena battle modes is intended for shorter bursts of play. Initially giving you a 1 minute timer, random challenges are thrown in – get a certain combo score, remain unhit for a length of time, finish enemies with a specific move – and completing these adds another 30 seconds of time.
Cautious play can comfortably see you through the main storyline; but the time limit in the arena encourages far more bravado, and works well for it. And if bringing in Tim, complete with levelled abilities from the main game, doesn’t appeal you also have the option to control pretty much any enemy from the game instead, all of whom can also be levelled up individually.
(Let’s face it, if the idea of taking control of a martial artist deer doesn’t appeal, what’s wrong with you? His name is Clive, for the record.)
The game’s sense of humour and overall fun do take it a long way – but there are some issues too. Firstly, the game (as received as a review copy) does not run in full screen. While the chunky pixelated graphics do carry a lot of character in them, they still look lost in a 960 pixel width window (especially when played on a 1920 display).
In terms of gameplay, little is wrong. Combat may seem simple compared to the Streets of Rage series, but not in a negative way – it is still fun. Perhaps the biggest criticism could be of repetitiveness; enemies largely have the same patterns of attacks throughout, and as you progress it is their health and quantity attacking that increase more than any variation of approach. But if you were able to forgive identical-but-palette swapped enemies attacking in mobs a generation ago and still have fun, you probably will do here too.
There is also a flaw by omission – when the PC version was originally announced last year, to follow on from the original release, there were promised features such as four player local multiplayer and extra storyline characters – but these are not in the game as it stands. Hopefully future updates will bring these, or other new features.
At its heart, FIST OF AWESOME is a title to play in short bursts – a fitting approach for a game coming from mobile systems. Gamers who remember the titles of the late 80s should receive a burst of nostalgia from the pixelated graphics and chiptune soundtrack; and far more encouragingly also find that the genre is still enjoyable. And for gamers without all those memories to look back on? FIST OF AWESOME still has a great deal of charm – the story is self-knowingly ridiculous, and the game provides a great deal of fun.
FIST OF AWESOME is available from the Humble Store; it has also been Greenlit to come to Steam in the near future.