Fights in Tight Spaces: The Early Access Verdict
I’ve been looking at ‘Fights in Tight Spaces’, a tactical deck-building combat rogue-alike from GroundShatter and Mode 7 that has just hit Early Access.
The acronym FITS is maddeningly close to FIST’s which would be infinitely more suitable given the game, though swapping the S and T around does ruin the name- so I understand their reasoning. You see the name does exactly what it says on the tin, albeit a bloody, violent tin. The FITS acronym does open up some glorious options for alternative names such as the ones already mentioned in Week 129 of Our Week In Games here.
A more professional games journalist would leave that joke there and concentrate on doing the review. I am not a professional games journalist (but what makes a game journalist a professional? – Ed)……
‘Fluoride in Toothpaste Squeeze’ is a game of two halves. The first, half is spent revelling in the violence, the scenery and the progress of the game. The second half is when, after multiple deaths, you start to understand the mechanics behind the game and the deep strategic layer…. before going off to still revel in the violence.
I enjoyed my initial sessions with ‘Farmers in Tractor Shops’, but I hit a wall when my approach to use only the most entertaining moves stopped my progression. On account of all the dying.
You see, while the game starts relatively easily, you soon learn that health management is utterly vital for your success in this game. Take a clumsy hit in an early round and it could mean the difference between life and death in the chapter finale. The difficulty ramps up quite significantly as you progress and options to restore health a very sparse. Once I realised this and started treating my health as a precious resource, the game clicked and ‘French Interns Travelling South’ blossomed.
‘Floppy Invertebrates Try Swimming’ is a rogue-alike game where you move between levels just trying to survive. The combat is visceral, but controlled. On top of the basic premise of beating up the bad guys in front of you, you can also have a number of objectives to complete. There are a few different types of protection missions along with other things like briefcase retrieval missions or challenges for finishing level in a set number of moves. On top of the fun combat they add just enough variation without undermining the core aspects of the game. ‘Fighting in Tight Shorts’ is front and foremost a strategy-game and it’s notable that any of the additional aspects don’t detract from that. The protection missions for one are enjoyable, a nice shift of the tactical flow and more importantly they don’t annoy you or appear as filler. They merge seamlessly. This is very well done.
The combat itself is fun, logical and striking (har) to look at. Some of the moves are genuinely brutal and delight every time you use them. This is in part due to the lovely aesthetic (which Chris regularly writes about). The sterile shades-of-white for the world throw the block-shaded characters into stark contrast. It’s vivid, clear and you can parse what’s going on instantly. Special mention should be made of the attack indicators too, which do a beautiful job of showing you what’s going to happen on this turn and when. And this is important, once the round starts everyone (bar you) is locked into whatever action they were going to do. So enemies who can attack you will be locked into attacking no matter what. So, a key strategy is to not be there when they attack. Even better, is to put one of their friends there instead which sets up the potential for a beautifully orchestrated chain of events that ends up doing huge damage to multiple people, and when you’re on latter levels this sort of deviousness is the key to surviving.
For this to work the strategy aspect of ‘Flying in Troubled Space’ needs to be very deep. There are a number of interconnecting mechanics that build on top of each other in a web of ever increasing complexity. There is always be a danger that this sort of stacked-complexity can overwhelm, happily this is not the case in ‘Farriers Instructing Tired Students’. No matter how much is going on you always know what will happen and how to counter it. Whether you can counter it is another thing; and ties into the deck-building aspect.
You see, the combat and movement in ‘Frogs Intending To Sing’ are all on the cards you’re dealt at the start of each turn. There are a number of different deck-types (balanced, counter-attacking, aggressive etc) and the cards vary depending on the fighting style. Each card costs a certain amount of action points (you typically have 3, but events do arise where you can have more) and must be weighed for each situation as what you can do is dictated by what are on the cards with no other options present. It’s possible to pick up new cards as rewards to add extra variation, but as a rule what’s in your hand is what you’ve got. Now this adds part of the rogue-like element to the game. The move you need is never guaranteed to be in your hand. You’re constantly balancing your hand, the enemies movement and the space you have available and it will not always work. The games (true) name is very apt here. The spaces are often very tight and you need to be very deliberate with your movements.
When it works, the game is glorious. A chain-reaction of moves causes enemies to accidentally hit allies, knocking them into the paths of other enemies all to hilarious consequences. When it doesn’t, and you’ve just been dealt your third dud hand leaving you with no way to avoid death, it’s not as fun. Though, this is part and parcel of the rogue-alike and deck-building genre so is in no way a criticism.
On top of the level based events you have a sort of meta-game where you can chose different paths through each ‘story’ (such as it is) where you can end up in a classic level, a medical area where you can purchase health/upgrades/remove debuffs, or the delightful ‘random encounters’. These encounters are brilliant and can range from a surprise birthday party with presents, defusing a bomb, tailing a suspect, or by being attacked by ninjas. Yes ninjas. On top of the already solid base mechanics this yet again, adds just enough variation and illusion of control to your progress that you never quite feel cheated by a death. It’s a perfect balance.
Of course not everything in ‘Fox international Trade Spy’ works. Some of the controls are a little ‘off’. It’s weird not being able to back out of things with ‘Esc’ for example and the lack of a scroll-able zoom seems odd- you don’t notice it after a while but I still found myself attempting it every now and then. The ‘replay’ option at the end of your fight, while a neat idea, just takes too long and locks you in until the end, so I immediately stopped doing it after the second go. I’m also not sold on how the cards are displayed on the bottom of the screen- having to hover over each one to bring it up (to see what your options are) is a little annoying; granted it’s not as bad when there are fewer cards in your hand, but still.
It would also be nice to see a bit more variation in the locations as you get familiar with them very quickly; some degree of randomisation would help here, while the additional character expected to join during Early Access will add some welcome variety.
Oh, and the music is pretty bland.
That said, I feel like I’m nit-picking here. ‘Falling into Soup’ is a fantastic little rogue-alike that has clearly been very well thought out. The mechanics work and build on each other beautifully and it’s just a joy to play. It’s hard, and at times it can be utterly punishing if a bit of bad luck early on means you can’t complete each mission finale, but I think that’s just part and parcel of playing a rogue-alike. You take the rough with the smooth.
I’m thoroughly impressed and it’s even supplanted Noita as my ‘background game’. High praise indeed. So, even though the game has just hit Early-access I can’t recommend ‘Fights in Tight Spaces‘ (or whatever it’s called…) strongly enough. Did I mention it has ninjas?
Just don’t muck about with it’s name…
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available / Reviewed – PC (also available on XBOX platforms)
Review code provided by publisher. See this page for more on our scoring policy