Written by Tom Sharpe.
The days when you can sit next to a friend and JOIN IN are certainly back. The ease of controller-PC action has ushered in a good, hearty trend of pure local co-op experiences (see Risk of Rain for a golden example). And so, Iron Fisticle appears with those now familiar words, procedurally-generated etched across it's bow. But is it tempting enough to keep you coming back run after run?
Well simply, Iron Fisticle is a charming game, that has only just started to wear thin on us after four hours of play. You play a (or two if you're lucky enough to have a friend) knight who loses a bunch of food while napping on guard duty when an esurient eye appears from a vortex, taking lunch and yourself into a procedurally-generated dungeon nightmare. The premise is absolutely enough to justify your role in the game and all the better for it being playfully odd. The designers have keenly tapped into the simple and bizarre story setups that old coin-ops so often had.
In each Zelda-esque room, waves of enemies spawn, dropping aforementioned snacks (providing a fruit machine aesthetic) when dispatched. Other typical symbols appear in the arena, such as letters tablets, gems, health hearts and character buffs. Your standard weapon is a throwing axe which you wield in an 8-axis manner, but better tools become available to you in chests. A large part of the tension of this game is the weapon balancing, as your axe dispensing is only just quick enough to keep the hordes at bay, but tactical use of the extra gear clears a room in seconds. This provides moments of mob-carnage so multitudinous that you can't help but be pleased with yourself.
Aside from the weapons, you can dash to gain a movement advantage and also use your iron fist (icle) as a big hit “special” move, like those crazy bazooka cops in Streets of Rage. The game is as simple as that. You move through the dungeon-grid, clearing waves of enemies, gathering points and buffs, grabbing the key, moving on to the boss room. It is a simple, retro game at heart, but with an important alteration of persistent character improvement. Speed, health, damage buffs can be purchased which pertain to subsequent play-throughs, however I find any changes to be so subtle, I could not tell the difference. It does not have the gravitas of the similar persistent-item-gathering system in The Binding of Isaac, for example.
Iron Fisticle, however, rollicks along with tongue-in-cheek style, great design and effective, but slightly limited, soundtrack. A glaring problem needing to be fixed is the bonus rounds which work like the worst platformer this side of Pickle Wars. These sections are sometimes impossible to skip and provide so little benefit that they became a thorn in the fun, a real shame.
The rooms are, sadly, repetitive, undermining the great design work on show. The enemies are brash, colourful and varied, some parodies of classic mob types. Lighting effects on the special graveyard arenas add a touch of atmosphere lacking in the standard rooms. The procedurally-generated boast is somewhat weak, and perhaps with more elements to give greater variety, our interest may have been held for longer.
So, does Iron Fisticle stand as a roguelike that we will return to again and again for run after run? It certainly keept us playing and I’m sure will continue to do so, testament to the developers nailing the addictive factor much needed for this style of play. Sadly, however, it is not always a fulfilling run, due to slightly restricted freedom of path and the few niggles previously mentioned. We would, however, recommend Iron Fisticle to anyone who enjoys slaying some creatures with a buddy of an evening without pretension and with heaps of passion and fun for retro styling evident in the developers minds.