While graphics, platforms and the games industry as a whole may have changed, three core principles remain true. One, shooting waves of enemies in the face remains awesome. Two, getting out of a pinch when said enemies become threatening will make you feel like a god. And three, you never stop loving the way your heart beats in your chest when you almost died but you just about lived on to complete the level instead. When a game can do this to perfection then you know you’re onto a winner and lucky for us that twin-stick shooter Iron Fisticle is a very good example of this indeed.
Iron Fisticle‘s premise is a relatively simple one but it’s difficult. Oh it’s so difficult.
You see, the game plonks you, a nameless, genderless knight in the middle of procedurally generated levels and tells you to have at it. Use the left stick to navigate and the right stick to fire (do not play this without a controller, for the love of God) and try not to die. Well, easier said than done.
In the earlier levels of Iron Fisticle, space is your friend. The game’s low level zombies shuffle towards you (with a hunger for brains, presumably) and provided you don’t get backed into a corner and keep moving, taking pot-shots at the edges until you can thin the horde out, you’ll survive. The idea is to do this in the quickest time possible before the super-strong robots show up and make your life more difficult, but as the game progresses the more evolved enemy types will chip away at your strategy until you’re a useless husk of a man/woman/non-binary gamer, crying that the game has killed you for the umpteenth time.
Just kidding. But really, Iron Fisticle is difficult and it will really make you think about your strategy; and it’s one of the best things about it.
There are giant, pooey sacks that spit out easy to kill but difficult to escape from leeches. There are giant green globs of snot that seem to exist just to annoy you. There are flowers that travel around the edges of the game spitting fireballs and make angling your shots a nightmare. These are just some examples but they all pile up eventually and you’ll soon be running around like a headless chicken, trying to snuff them all out. There are the end of level bosses too who rear their ugly faces testing every circle strafing skill and fast dash timing (the fast dash lets you glide a few inches in your chosen direction) that you’ve learnt up to that point.
Developer Confused Pelican makes it the smallest smidgen easier with Iron Fisticle‘s weapons and the fact that there is two-player local co-op (which I’ve yet to test out). When you’re not jogging around the spacious bits of the level like you’ve got a bus to catch, there are loot boxes to break open. Precious life giving loot. From neon flamethrowers to shurikens to hammers, there are a variety of death dealers to replace your default attack. There’s a strong variety of weapons and while you’ll definitely have your favourites (mine is the arrows – they cut across the map like a knife through smooth, golden butter) you never get bored. They run out after a few seconds though so mark my words when I say use them wisely. But, when in doubt, with just your default weapon by your side, it’s time to unleash the Iron Fisticle.
Yes, the name of the game is also your knight’s most precious weapon. Got a boss down to the last bit of health? Iron Fisticle. Got a whole lot of enemies to clear out at once? Iron Fisticle. Just want an excuse to say the (slightly) rude-sounding phrase again? Iron Fisticle. There is nothing the magnificent weapon can’t do as it fizzles everything in range and turns it to a pile of pixelated dust. It’s limited though, so use it wisely. But, this is where the next best part of the game comes in.
There are RPG ‘elements’ that make save your bacon too. Iron Fisticle is an arcade twin-stick shooter through and through so there are no silly hats and classes or anything of that ilk – just levelling up and collectibles. The enemies that you kill will drop a variety of foodstuffs that you can collect for points (and point boosters), coins for the in-game shop and all important stat upgrades. The upgrades happen of their own volition – there are no screens for you to jump in and customise – but you’ll find their effects instant. Especially the health bar upgrade. That’s vital. Coins allow you to buy extra health pips, agility boosts and a better weapon. Points meanwhile, just get you to the top of a leaderboard.
At the moment I’m sat somewhere at around 1500 in the world, which is pretty low. But that’s alright! I love twin-stick shooters and I’m moderately ok at them but Iron Fisticle mercilessly kicks me in the rear – yet I’m completely enamoured by this game.
Every time I die I get the ‘just one more go’ rush. Just like the arcades of old where we’d go home with pockets filled of lint, pound coins (or quarters, if you’re in North America) I can’t put it down because I’m convinced I’m getting better and that the next time I’ll definitely be able to kick that many eyed monster in its tuchus.
And when I finally do quit, its catchy chip tune soundtrack stays on loop in my head, the pixel graphics (at a lovely 60 FPS) stay whizzing behind my eyelids.
The lone issue I have with Iron Fisticle is its length. The game seems unnaturally short which is a shame. It does offer great replayability and the procedurally generated levels (including short platforming sections) are going to mix things up – Iron Fisticle is also quite well priced at £6.99/$8.99 – but when all is said and done, players who have managed to complete it quickly are going to be searching for that extra level that ups the ante and they aren’t going to find it.
That said, if you finish Iron Fisticle and still need a challenge (as if it didn’t ruin your thumbs and push your abilities to the limit) then I really do applaud you.
Iron Fisticle is available from Steam now.