Rayton the Rabbit straps on a mech-fist bigger than his entire body in FIST Forged in Shadow Torch, a 2D Metroidvania brawler. But is it a fistful of dollars, or a knuckle sandwich? The Finger Guns Review.
FIST has been on the Finger Guns radar for a year or so, and it’s not only because of its fantastic B-movie title, we just love furry critters here. A large and sprawling Metroidvania adventure through a dieselpunk world, FIST is also one of the recent resurgence of anthro populated video games. Referred to as Furtizens, FIST’s cast is a furry team of ex-military mammals; Rayton the Mecha-Fist-wielding rabbit; Urso, his bear mechanic; rats running the mafia and the underground; and a Red Panda who runs a noodle bar. If all that makes you say, nope, then now’s the hopping-off point, but if you’re quite happy with a furry cast of critters, FIST has a lot to offer.
Rule With An Iron Fist
FIST stands for Forged in Shadow Torch. Not sure why, apart from Torch is the name of the town and tower in the game. Minding his own business at his local noodle bar, Rayton Rabbit wiles away his days until his drinking and noodle slurping buddy Urso the Bear is rounded up and arrested by the Iron Dogs, FIST’s mech dog bad guys. They are all robots, but shaped like dogs on their hind legs – the army of the totalitarian government that’s been in place the last 6 years. After hiding from his responsibilities throughout that time, Rayton must don his massive mechanoid fist once more and break his friend out of the highest fortified prison in Torch city.
It’s not spoiling too much to say that while there, he gets embroiled in a Macguffin plot involving a furry-faced cat-girl and the Spark, a powerful crystal that a sinister cyborg hare is after, mostly because it’s quite clear the cyborg hare is his old partner who he had thought long dead. Taking it upon himself to find out what his old partner is doing, uncover the mystery of the Spark and prevent disaster, Rayton sets out against a mechanoid army single fist-edly.
While the story is passable, the dialogue and general conversation are not great. Enemy conversations are laughable, the Iron Dogs being almost a shoe-in for Star Wars Battle Droid level chats – err, is that the rabbit who killed 300 of us? Yes, sir, roger roger. The general narrative will move you on through a dozen or so different areas of the dark dieselpunk city, but beyond a few revelations about Rayton’s past, there’s not much in the way of emotional resonance, or even much to flesh out any other characters.
Rayton is one of the coolest furry anti-heroes I’ve seen in a while. Coolest looking I should say. From his surly VO to his badass jacket and collar, from the way he lands after falls to his awesome fist powers, Rayton seems to have it all. However beyond the plot-device of his past with the cyborg hare, he is quite blank-slate, and I rarely felt I got any real insight into his character. He’s surface cool, but he keeps his cards close to his chest.
Approach FIST as a bombastic Metroidvania brawler and you won’t go far wrong, but expecting a fleshed-out and interesting plot is possibly a step too far.
FIST is structured as a sprawling Metroidvania-type map – Torch City and all its many districts and infrastructural areas. From sewers to factories, from power plants to prisons, Torch city is a totalitarian dieselpunk world of darkness and suspicion.
Gameplay follows the usual Metroidvania route of slowly collecting powers or skills, that then translates to allowing you to open previously locked doors, or access new unreachable areas. More of the city opens up to you the more you explore. This approach will be familiar to many, but it does require a hell of a lot of backtracking, slogging your way through the same areas a number of times. There is a fast travel system, but it only works at certain ‘teleporter’ consoles. I say ‘teleporter’ in speech marks because this device puts you in a ball, and that ball shoots off into a tube to take you elsewhere in the city. That’s an old postal service flue system – what it’s not is a teleporter.
There are item upgrades to collect – for every three you find you can upgrade Rayton’s HP or power move limit. You also collect coins and data disks which you can spend on new moves for your three weapons – more on them in a moment.
Most of the time Rayton is using the FIST to pummel robot dogs around, but sometimes he is sans FIST and must resort to stealth, or indeed a whole swimming level section in the sewers. It’s when the game moves away from the core combat loop that it feels like it misses its step. There is no sneaking, no crouching, no hiding mechanics, and yet you are required to complete stealth sections. They feel shoehorned in. Rayton can bounce off walls multiple times, but what he can’t do is just hold onto the wall and stay still. Again in some gauntlet-like sections (as below), you are required to avoid lasers from every direction by staying on the right piece of wall, but without a way to stop still and hang on this becomes arduous, finicky and ultimately frustrating. It feels like it was an idea added late in development, and that no one also put in an appropriately designed skill to make the sections doable.
Fistful of Dollars
So, what about the great big FIST, right? Well, of course, one of FIST’s main draws is the 2D combat and the showcased combos etc that can be performed with said mech fist. Rayton’s FIST is just one part of an old Iron Suit of mechanised armour he used to wear, back when he was in the military. The rest of the suit has degraded or been lost, and now only the fist remains. Without the rest of the armour’s structure, it does look hella unwieldy, and heavy on a small rabbit frame, but hey, it’s got so much tech in it, I can pretend it’s got some kind of anti-gravity weight displacement system.
You have a variety of light and heavy attacks you can perform with the fist, knocking robots left and right. You can grab with O and throw robots into each other and you can boost and dodge with ease. AI is pretty brutal in that the enemies will crowd you and rush in a lot. Fights are hard, almost punishing affairs, and you will die plenty on your long circuitous routes back and forth across the city. Thankfully, auto-saves are common and you’ll never lose much progress, but fast travel points are few and far between. Bosses are also very tough, mostly gimmick-filled fights with large tank-like machines with multiple stages and unfair victory conditions.
Combat, on the whole, is easy to perform but hard to master, full of satisfying combos that actually don’t usually work to your advantage. There are three different main weapons – the aforementioned eponymous FIST, a tornado drill, and electric whips. Each has a spider’s web of skills and moves to unlock. It’s just that it all feels a bit too tough, and with not enough reward in the story or gameplay itself to warrant so much time taken to die and learn.
You can see from the screenshots on this page, I had no end of beautiful vistas to choose from. FIST is full of gorgeous visuals, beautifully realised for the most part, with a nice subtle Chinese flavour – curfews and noodle bars and such, but in a dieselpunk world.
Backgrounds move and breathe and live as you run past. Furtizens stick their necks out to dive for cover, bots soar through the alleys, lights twinkle and lanterns rock gently. The level of detail and craft on display is incredible. Walls are festooned with communist Furry propaganda that is probably even more interesting if you can read Chinese. I would have liked to have taken dozens of them to decorate my bedroom as a kid.
Enemy design isn’t that interesting compared to the world. The Iron Dogs all look basically the same, just with a variety of different weapons and amount of armour or shields. There is a fantastic map to help you keep track of all the backtracking you’ll need to do if the game does take your fancy, and the actual Metroidvania aspect will keep aficionados going for many hours.
Punch and Judy
While it is fun to scramble your way around a pretty huge Metroidvania map with a supped-up mech rabbit, ultimately FIST holds little in the way of reward for your time. The story feels like it should be good, but the dialogue is often bad, and the enemy scenes and conversations are laughable. There’s little emotional resonance and though Rayton has the coolest voice, he also seems to have almost nothing worth saying.
The gameplay boils down to go-here, go-there, pick-this-up and unlock-this, its very standard and because of that, it can feel really dull. Once the initial awe has worn off from looking at the graphics and art on display, FIST sort of deflates like a flaccid balloon, and you’re left with very standard Metroidvania design, just with anthro characters to add some flavour. It feels like it has the ingredients for something great, but just hasn’t quite come together.
That said if you are an anthro fan, Rayton and his world are enjoyable enough to spend a dozen or so hours with.
FIST is a by-the-numbers Metroidvania, elevated by its cast of anthro characters and its deep and interesting dieselpunk world. However, this doesn’t distract enough to forgive its unbalanced combat, very standard level design and a lot of back-tracking.
FIST Forged In Shadow Torch is available now on PS4, PS5 (review platform), and PC via Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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