Arcade-type beat-‘em-ups are usually good fun, as there’s not a lot of plot to consider; you can just beat the crap out of things. Movie theaters (and some pizza parlors) used to feature these types of games in my town, in the lobby, as a means of entertaining families before movies started, and as a way of keeping them there after the movie finished. With games like The Simpsons Arcade Game and of course, Double Dragon and Mortal Kombat, kids could be assured a short but action-packed gaming session.
FIST OF AWESOME (yep, it’s in all caps, because of course it is) takes these older arcade games and manages to point out how ridiculous they are while also being…well, awesome. Yeah, there are weird things about the game, but overall it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It released on July 4th on Steam, so here’s a gif of dancing bears to celebrate:
What’s the premise? Well, you’re a lumberjack named Tim. Pretty straightforward, until your hand starts talking to you after a disaster destroys your home and family. The forest you live in is on fire, and your hand begins instructing you in the art of kicking ass…starting with some deer. Punch them out, and you come to a bear in a buffalo plaid vest, which you must also beat up. “Like Streets of Rage, but with more bears,” states the developer. Seriously, that’s it. That’s the game.
Humans are enslaved, and Tim (and his super FIST OF AWESOME) are fighting off the animals that enslaved them, but that plot point is only really explored by things like silly backdrops of humans playing instruments and moving around under a banner that instructs them to “Dance, Humans, Dance!” Oh, did I mention that you’re a time-traveling lumberjack who beats up animals through multiple eras of the Earth, whether humanity is present or not? Because you are, and you do.
Nicoll Hunt created the prototype for FIST OF AWESOME as a Valentine’s Day present for his girlfriend in 2012, animating it in a mere 5 hours. He reasoned that since she stayed with him (clearly a fan of the concept), a full game was necessary to benefit mankind. The animation is very rough, but honestly, it doesn’t matter, because you can tell what’s going on very clearly. The game never claims to be full of deep thoughts and concepts, and while it took 29 months to finish (including a Kickstarter campaign to bring it to multiple platforms), it seems like a good bit of that went toward making as many different fighting scenarios and backdrops as possible; which, honestly, is fine with me. In short: The graphics are almost terrible, but they’re perfect for the game. Since FIST OF AWESOME only spent 7 days in Steam Greenlight before being voted into full PC release, apparently a lot of people agree.
The sound design is completely appropriate – I tried to think of more descriptive words than “appropriate,” and I couldn’t. The noises Tim makes while jumping, punching, and even just standing around at the beginning of the game, basically keep the mood just on this side of humorous, while also providing feedback to your actions. The soundtrack is great, featuring songs by Echolevel (aka Brendan Ratliff) that are sure to get stuck in your head even after a short play session. You can turn the sounds and music up or down in the game options, in case you just want to punch bears in silence. (I mean, that’s up to you, but you’re missing out.)
Now we get to the part of the review where I’m going to criticize some things. The controls may be completely intuitive on something like a tablet, which is what the game was originally created for, but on a PC keyboard, they are the exact opposite of what most gamers are accustomed to. WASD are fighting buttons, while the arrow keys move Tim around the screen. Space is “jump,” so there’s that, but I spent most of the first level trying to train my hands to stop using WASD whenever I wanted to move- and while I didn’t die, I got my butt kicked by deer an embarrassing number of times.
The fighting controls are also backwards to me in relation to the actions on the screen, which is confusing. You press “W” (which is “up,” normally) to stomp an enemy on the ground, and A (which is “left”) to back-kick…but if you’re facing to the left and hit back-kick, you kick to the right while pressing the “left” key for normal game movement … it’s just kind of irritating. With a controller, it’s slightly easier, as you’re assigning actions to buttons that are normally used for actions, so no matter what direction you’re facing, “back-kick” will mean “kick behind you,” rather than “kick in a certain direction.” For my part, I stuck with “S” (punch) and “D” (kick) moreso than anything else, to avoid confusion.
FIST OF AWESOME is available on Steam for $6.79 until July 10th, when it will return to it’s usual price of $7.99. The game is fairly short, but there are arenas where you fight multiple enemies, and like most arcade games, playing it repeatedly is part of the fun – though there’s no scoreboard here to make creative initial acronyms, and the local multiplayer option wasn’t funded in Kickstarter, so any competition will have to be based on screenshots or witnesses hanging around your PC and yelling at each other about who played it better. Just like the good ol’ days at the arcade…