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Iron Fisticle (PC) artwork

Iron Fisticle (PC) review

"Big money! Big turnips! I love it!!"

From the onset, it's very obvious this game's biggest influence is Smash TV: you must traverse floors (stages) with interconnecting rooms, in which the only way to proceed to the one or two following rooms is by annihilating waves of Frankenstein-esque green monsters who flood the chamber from thin air. Occasionally joining these brutes are creatures that range from projectile-spitting flowers that crawl across the walls and red demons that zone in on your character at fast speeds, and also hazards such as mines in the shape of a skull and crossbones. You combat these nefarious foes with your fully-armored knight, or two with local co-op, tossing an unlimited supply of axes with a twin-stick control set-up (you can use the keyboard, but it's discouraged), not to mention timed power-ups from chests that include the likes of rapid knives and a blue flame attack. And to think, it's all in the name of retrieving a giant turnip that was stolen when said knight was snoozing on guard duty.

However, similarities start fading away around that point, as Iron Fisticle additionally has many makings of a certain subgenre. You can increase the efficiency of your knight's abilities by picking up green and gold item boxes, filling in the small bars in the hud to the right of the screen, which allows him to move faster, do more damage with the default attack, and even chuck weapons at a quicker pace. If you happened to plunder a sizable pile of coins as well, you can purchase these skills in a store, along with other useful items, which is only available at certain points in each floor. Also, through collecting of various foods that get dropped from defeated enemies, not to mention unique gold items that just pop up, you build up points for your experience bar. Whenever you level up, an item is awarded, such as new power-ups or even an item that allows discounts at the store.

Though, once you valiantly lose all health in battle, you get sent right back to the title screen. Despite that, all the additional power-ups and special items that's been unlocked for use through chests now carry over to future playthroughs. This also includes the gold item boxes, but, so as not to abuse this and make your knight overpowered, each difficulty setting has its own cap that only allows you to keep a reduced sum when restarting; you'll have to rebuild the rest with each subsequent session. It's what many consider to be roguelite, for its more forgiving take on the roguelike rules, and combines quite fittingly with the twin-stick gameplay.

I should warn that, when playing Iron Fisticle for the first time, its initial impression can easily dissuade many from continuing beyond that inaugural experience. I should know, since I almost did it myself. The thing with the first playthrough is that, assuming you're playing on Normal difficulty, even as your knight starts out extremely underpowered, it's actually surprisingly simple to trek through most of the game's floors without much drama, only getting into some major conflict around the third floor. Here's the problem... there's only four floors. When I died at the third floor boss, which happens to be an oval cyclops with tiny wings, I thought, "This can't really be it, can it?" Afterwards, I was already making notes in preparation for a review, writing comments like "too easy and slow" and "if things were tinkered just a bit, this would have been fine."

Of course, writing a review without finding out if there's actually more to the game would be ridiculous, so thankfully, on my second session, I saw much more. Interestingly, it's all due to one small modification when completing the fourth floor: it loops to the first floor. If you've played any arcade-style game that has a looping feature, then you know opponents tend to be much fiercer with their offenses, and Iron Fisticle is no exception as enemies cram rooms in larger, varied numbers. How graceful can you be with your knight as green monsters literally clog chambers with their slow, marching bodies, all while hectic bats, homing slugs, mobile, spinning spikes with flames, and bugs that plant explosive, glowing orbs, move in and out of that horde? Oh, you defeated them? Well, here's a second wave, and a third one afterwards for kicks.

Whereas you can mostly get by purely on brute force on the first set of floors, the following loops require a semblance of strategy when maintaining your power-up and coin inventory. You can't just instinctively grab a power-up just because it's available, especially if you're not in immediate danger. The game is smart in the way it handles specific objects, too, such as chests that won't fade away as long as they haven't been opened. Also, once you obtain a power-up, the timer won't even commence until you actually press the attack button, so there's something to think about. Currency also plays a vital role in later loops, as reaching a store with a huge stack can replenish your health, heart by heart, or stock up on Iron Fisticle attacks, a special move that destroys all enemies and projectiles within a small radius surrounding your knight. So destroy every mine and pot, and get especially good at the auto side-scrolling bonus stages for the monies!

Now, if you're expecting to see more content in these loops in terms of vastly different room designs, new enemies, and extra bosses, you're in for a disappointment. The loops, however, are an opportunity to see all the content already in the game that you wouldn't fully uncover by playing those starting four floors, from unique items to silly secrets. Not to mention, you can eventually collect all the letters that spell BONUS that turns all enemies into bells, as well as obtain every colored jewel for a powerful rainbow spear attack; very reminiscent of Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. When I said this game has much more going for it than I originally thought, I was looking at it in terms of an endurance run, a callback to the way oldschool games used to function, where, if you keep pushing forward, it feels like there's no end in sight as every obstacle gets faster and more aggressive. There's fun to be had in this design if done correctly, and that's where Iron Fisticle succeeds.

To end on an unusual note, I'm really glad I didn't play this game back when it came out around the end of 2014. I say that because, during the course of playing Iron Fisticle, I read up on how underwhelming the original version was, where the game just flat out sends you to the title screen after completing the fourth floor once. Yikes. But updates were made in the beginning of 2015 that gave the game an overhaul it deserved, installing loops, including difficulty settings, making co-op play a tad harder, and other tidbits that balance the mechanics.

I do have a few complaints about the new features, one of which is how much Challenge Mode just sucks; it's basically an incarnation of "the first playthrough", meaning it's really slow and ends after the fourth floor. I also feel like there should have been an additional higher difficulty setting, as Hard feels like what Normal should have been, and Normal feels like it should have been Easy. Suffice it to say, I highly recommend playing this on Hard if you want everything to start piling on you sooner. But as is, the current version of Iron Fisticle is a fun endurance romp, and if you've been yearning for a twin-stick shooter in the style of Smash TV, and don't mind the roguelite elements, give it a chance. Reclaim that turnip!

Note: this review is based on version 1.01.10 of the game.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 22, 2015)

The Xbox Live Arcade library has a surprising number of shoot 'em ups. Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Sine Mora, Raystorm HD, Trouble Witches, and so on. Instead of those, I chose to review Triggerheart Exelica. Because oh well...

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If you enjoyed this Iron Fisticle review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Germ posted April 23, 2015:

This really looks like it's up my alley, but it is something I've never heard of before. Thanks for your review, it's definitely on my radar now!
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pickhut posted April 23, 2015:

Thanks for reading! To be honest, this almost completely slipped my radar also. The only reason I knew of its existence was because the game was being promoted on Aqua Kitty's Steam updates corner due to one of the guys being involved with both games. I'm REALLY glad I held off playing the game until now, as I wanted to play it after finishing my Aqua Kitty review, but I had other things in mind at the time. Unfortunately, it really does seem like an under the radar release, as the game's leaderboards doesn't have that many players listed (I think under 200), and the dev even stated sales weren't great.

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