F.I.S.T: Forged in Shadow Torch

This is a slightly above average Metroidvania game that wasted some of its potential. The games that are around average are often quite tricky to write about. When a game is good and/or enjoyable, then I can easily rhapsodize about how it’s an incredible game that people should seek out. If it’s particularly good, I can go in depth with what’s going on there, maybe even get a few weeks’ worth of posts about it.

If a game is particularly bad I can likely stand it up as an example of what not to do and the kind of game to avoid. Sometimes that’s through fun blitz lists of various metroidvanias that I foolishly bought in a giant bunch and played through in about the same amount. Sometimes that’s through me ranting about how a game really should’ve been better (see that one Castlevania game whose name I have blocked from my memory). It’s probably fun to read, because it involves me ranting and raving about how I wasted my time playing it. There’s even something to hate-playing a game that’s almost cathartic.

With a more average game, it’s a bit harder to get worked up one way or another. I sort of enjoyed the game, but it also may just be something I’m playing while I’m waiting for the games I really want to play to drop, with the novelty just edging out replaying one of the rogue-likes or never-ending games that I do have and play from time to time. There is something to be said for taking in new media, for absorbing new stories and working through games to figure out how this all works. The bad and/or average games help me to understand what makes a truly great game great.

Oh, right, this game is about the bunny rabbit with a giant robot fist, almost forgot.

F.I.S.T. had a lot of potential for me. The opening does lean pretty heavy on its story, which can be offputting for metroidvania fans. I do find that games of this nature work best when they integrate the story into the worldbuilding and exploration (see: Hollow Knight, Death’s Gambit, etc.), but I also like games that lean on story, as should be readily apparent by the various posts that keep going up here.

F.I.S.T. really likes its story. It’s created this intricate world where anthropomorphic animals have built a sort of neo-noir society around Torch City, a decidedly Asian themed metropolis. At some point they got into a war with a group of sentient machines that are designed after the animals to some degree. The main character, Rayton, was a war hero in that fight for a while, before an incident involving one of his fellow soldiers dying and just the usual destruction of idealism made him retire. His best friend and fellow veteran, Urso (the bear above) has sort of been helping the animal rebellion/army for a while. When Urso is kidnapped, Rayton takes up his old fist and goes back to punching things again.

See, that already sounds a bit complicated, but it gets worse. There’s this sexy cat anthro who has smuggled a macguffin known as the “Spark” out for the Iron Legion’s hands and into her own. Her clan is meant to protect the Spark, and naturally her path intersects with Rayton’s quite often.

There’s also some guys who returned from the grave, your standard fantasy racism in animal packages (the rats are looked down on for some reason), and a few other twists and turns.

The early part of the game actually feels really good, particularly since I’d played so many bad to mediocre metroidvanias prior. Rayton controls pretty well, and there’s a combo system that works sort of like the same system in Guacamelee (it actually feels so much like that system that I almost wonder if they didn’t copy it). They even do precisely what I just said a good metroidvania should do: they integrate the plot and setting into the exploration. Moving and working your way through Torch City in those early minutes of gameplay feels fun, and the setting’s decidedly different than a lot of these type of games. It’s not some strange alien planet or a destroyed wasteland, but a thriving city that feels truly inhabited, even as Rayton’s crashing his way through things.

However, the game soon degrades, losing that originality. It starts somewhat with the infiltration of the Shadow Tower, which begins to play out like every high tech, robot infested facility that you’ve ever seen. Not enough is done to make the game stand out there. It’s all competent, but it’s all something that we’ve seen before. I’ve even seen the whole anthropomorphic animal thing done better in a few games (Dust: An Elysian Tale immediately comes to mind).

And it actively gets worse as the game goes along. Rayton goes through Sewers (because of course he does), then an abandoned mine, then an icy area. It’s like they decided that they’d forefront all the interesting locales, tricking the player into thinking that everything’s going to take place in Torch City, only to switch and start dumping Rayton into whatever lackluster, unimaginative setting they could manage to think up.

Seriously, a Sewer Level? In 2022?

The combat does feel engaging and the game handles this sort of cinematic feel to it and other elements pretty well. The early bosses were just tough enough to really push me, and I’m fairly good at these sorts of games (lots of practice). Rayton feels like someone who’s actually competent, and you do notice your strength growing through combos and special moves that become available as you progress.

That system is exactly like every other system you’ve seen though. You gather money to unlock new additions to the combo until you hit a point where you need this special data disk that are commonly dropped by bosses or found in obscure locations.

What sucks there is that the combos don’t really increase your attack; that never seems to truly grow throughout the game. The combos are also tied to the weapons, of which you have three. The issue there is that by the time you get the second weapon, you’ll have mastered the fist, making it feel more comfortable and natural. The game sometimes has enemies that the other weapons are better for, but outside of that, I didn’t bother switching off the fist. That also meant I dumped most of my upgrades into the Fist, and basically ended up sitting on a ton of money.

There are other things to collect. You can upgrade Rayton’s health, special move energy, and “device” energy. The last is used either for healing potions or for a handful of other little trinkets that Rayton picks up. It reminds me of Hollow Knight’s soul, which could be used to heal you or power spells, depending on your preference and skill level.

Unsurprisingly, Hollow Knight did it better.

There is a boss that’s a sharp difficulty spike. Late in the game, this completely random sumo robot just drops in on Rayton to impede his path. The guy has no connection to the overarching plot beyond just being another of the several Iron Legion troops that drops in your way. Yet for some reason, this is the hardest boss in the entire game (something that the community seems to agree upon). It doesn’t feel like this was properly tested for balance, as your hardest boss shouldn’t be a random out of no where guy. This wasn’t a hidden fight or the final boss either. It again seems to indicate that there were some poor decisions made in the game design.

Speaking of, I hate chase scenes. These are the sort of situations that sometimes show up in metroidvanias, where an unstoppable for that absolutely will kill you in one hit is following behind you while you have to platform your way up/out of a location using skills and timing. It’s most frustratingly and famously done in Ori and the Blind Forest, where it killed me so many times that I will never play that otherwise great game again (there were a lot of instant death areas in that game), but it pops up every now and then.

What’s most annoying is when it’s in one section of a game that really hasn’t been relying on that sort of thing. It happens in F.I.S.T. when you’re at the bottom of an ancient temple (see what I mean about the lack of originality in locations?). A random worm appears and you have to outrace it. This was particularly frustrating, as one missed move means the worm will absolutely eat you; even Ori gave you a little more leeway than that (Though not much). It’s even more irritating when it again involves something that comes out of no where, then leaves.

That’s the issue with F.I.S.T.. It doesn’t feel like everything was thought through here. There’s this promising start that hints toward original ideas, and the characters are, for the most part, pretty interesting. The game had the potential to utilize its unique setting and color to make something new.

Instead it fell back on things that are totally unoriginal and appear in almost every game: areas we’ve seen before, death trap chases, uninspiring upgrade trees; even its collectables are the same sort of thing that’s been done before (life upgrades, soul… excuse me, energy upgrades, and lost grubs, I mean seeds). F.I.S.T. just seemed to run out of original ideas, and that kills a game quicker than even an irritating, out of no where chase sequence.

6 early potential and decent graphics pull together to make a pretty much average metroidvania only worth playing if you’re into the genre… or anthropomorphic animals


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