Let’s get it out of the way. FIST: Forged in Shadow Torch on the Nintendo Switch is a frustrating game. Not in the sense that it’s difficult, but rather that it is so frustratingly close to being something great and doesn’t quite make it. Like doing a pole vault and you crack your ankle on the pole. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, but a mixture of the game falling short of its potential and the Switch hardware struggling to keep up makes this one a bit harder to recommend.
Developed by Shanghai-based TiGames in conjunction with Sony’s ‘China Hero Project’ initiative, FIST launched on PlayStation consoles and PC in 2021 before now making its way to Switch almost a year later. It’s a dieselpunk Metroidvania in which you assume the role of an anthropomorphic rabbit named Rayton; a former pilot who has to take up ‘arm’ to fight back against the legion and their elite squadron, the Iron Dogs, who have occupied his home of Torch City. The arm in question quite literally being a giant arm that straps to Ray’s back — the eponymous FIST.
FIST hits all of the standard Metroidvania notes: explore, hit a wall, find an item to help you overcome said wall, open up more of the map, rinse, repeat. However, due to its heavy reliance on narrative, FIST feels decidedly more linear than something like Super Metroid. The upgrades themselves are also pretty standard, like an extra jump, wall jumps, and other weapons, and a few of these really feel like they should be in your standard kit — more on that later.
Once you get your full kit, Ray feels good to maneuver and the platforming challenges (and sequence breaks) are satisfying to pull off. That being said, Ray moves as slow as a rabbit with a giant metal fist attached to its back, so if you want to get around at a decent pace, expect to be spamming that dash button a lot.
One area in which FIST stands out a bit more from other Metroidvania games is in its combat design. Melee combat with a heavy focus on combos is the name of the game here; while not as deep as, say, Bayonetta’s systems, FIST’s combat is surprisingly satisfying. However, this is another part of the game where the aforementioned issue with upgrades feeling like they should be standard parts of your kit bleeds through. When we first got our hands on the game, combat felt like it was missing something to really make it click; like a dodge that can pass through enemies and projectiles or a parry. These are both eventually present, but one is the final upgrade you get in the game and the other is missable. It makes sense for extra moves and combo strings to be locked behind upgrades (which you can spend currency on at any save point) but these moves being locked away made things feel a bit off in the early game.
Ray also gains access to new weapons with their own set of combos, like the slow-moving but hard-hitting drill and the lightning-fast whip, these can be swapped through with the press of a button allowing you to use multiple weapons in your combos. He also has a range of sub-weapons like a homing rocket and batons which can parry attacks (separate from the actual parry). The kicker here is that these sub-weapons use the same meter as your healing flask, so they end up feeling like a waste of resources comparatively.
While not a super long game by any means at around 15 hours, FIST feels like it hangs around just a touch too long, paired with a sharp difficulty spike in the late game. There’s a segment revolving around slowly carrying batteries around, which is bad enough, but if they’re damaged they reset back to the start, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Not to mention the re-use of bosses throughout the entire game, with some fights recurring three or four times by the time you hit credits, making things feel a bit stretched.
FIST really struggles on the presentation front at times; while the game was quite the looker on PS5 and PC, the transfer to Switch isn’t quite as elegant. It still looks quite good for the system, but elements like the fur textures during cutscenes look completely off, as well as some areas struggling to maintain 30fps. That being said, the presentation issues aren’t all the fault of the Switch. Cutscenes can cut to black abruptly; the voice acting can go from perfectly fine to weird, stilted line reads within the same conversation, and characters will even teleport about.
This glitchiness transfers to gameplay too, with teleportation happening to Ray occasionally as he gets hit. During one of the final bosses we experienced a glitch in which they just disappeared off the edge of the screen, soft-locking the game, which was immediately followed by infinitely respawning enemies on an elevator ride which once again, soft-locked the game.
The biggest drawback of the Switch version, however, is the load times. Loads between areas are on average 45 seconds to a minute long (we timed them). This is made even more frustrating because there are parts of the game in which you go to an area only to be told a minute later that you have to go back to a different area and thus another long load. The worst offender is in one of the late-game boss fights in which death means a 50-second load time followed by walking back to the arena, loading into the fight, going through the dialogue, and then finally getting back to the battle. Which is even weirder considering other fights will load you straight back to the boss.
Although we may sound quite negative when discussing the game, FIST: Forged In Shadow Torch really is worth playing; it just has so much potential that it doesn’t quite reach. It rides on the cusp of greatness so often, while not quite making it over the hurdle. We can’t wait to play a sequel because if it was iterated on, FIST could be something really special. Sadly, due to the technical issues associated with this Switch version such as the unbearably long load times, it’s let down even further. Overall, a promising foundation that we hope leads to better things in the future.
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