Friday 26 September 2014

Iron Fisticle (PC)

With a title like Iron Fisticle, one might suggest this is something they only do in Germany, or perhaps an obscure entry on Urban Dictionary. No, friends, you won't be hitting up the missus (or the mister) for an 'iron fisticle' any time soon. Unless you make it up. Rather, Iron Fisticle is the name of a fantastic new dual-stick shooter that harks back to the old days of quarter-chompers Gauntlet and Smash TV, developed by Confused Pelican Games (Amiga shareware-scene hero) and Tikipod (Rock Boshers DX, Aqua Kitty and of course r0x EP).

There's not much plot to speak of in this one, which makes sense, as it's clearly meant to closely mirror the old-time coin-op experience. Firing up the start screen complete with neat-o medieval pixel fonts and scanlines, I can easily imagine being back in the arcade with that mulleted kid stood next to me watching, stale gum stuck to my Nike Airs and my sister over in the pinball section wizarding away while I play through my pocket money.

At first glance, this seems like a pretty straightforward arena shooter, and you know what? It is. There are some light RPG elements at play which we'll get to in a minute, but the core gameplay is comfortingly familiar. Left stick to move, right stick to shoot, don't die, don't take too long to clear a room. The character has a dash attack, which can get the player out of trouble spots (but I found it injured me on accident more often than it saved me) as well as, you guessed it, the Iron Fisticle power move - which explodes in a circular shape around the character, wiping out enemies in the process.

The game is WAY too hard to beat the first time around, at least for my withered thumbs. As the player progresses, weapons are unlocked and stats are improved, enabling the dashing knight to delve further into the dungeons. No, I haven't beaten the game yet, but I'm working on it, I swear. Just need... more... unlocks...!

Oh, I and I have to mention that the Fisticle is also pretty unforgiving. In all seriousness, you die, it's game over man, game over. One life, one shot. Even if you've made it all the way to the boss, which I did on level 2, and he was 75% dead... at which point I was promptly waxed by a projectile. Damn. This style of game forces the player to become better, and it makes one feel like every step counts, which adds a lot to this title.

Given this classic difficulty, nice progression system, wonderfully simple gameplay, and superb pixel art, Iron Fisticle is a delight to play. Each monster has unique qualities, attacks, and sound effects. Levels are well-designed and randomized each playthrough to encourage replay. There's lots of nice little touches, too - humorous descriptions on the various collectible items, ambient lighting that follows the player, old-school sounding digital effects (which REALLY remind me of getting hit in Gauntlet) and more.

Retailing at £5.99 on Steam, Iron Fisticle is a solid, entertaining game for the oldsters like me. This is one of the best indie titles I've played recently. A polished package that isn't merely retro inspired; Iron Fisticle is a game that could have actually prospered in a late 80's/early 90's arcade machine. Top marks.

Buy the game here (from the Steam page).
5 out of 5

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