There are a million Metroidvanias out there and in a crowded field it can be tough for any new game to stand out. Fortunately, that’s just what F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch does. With a dystopian future setting, it pits Ray and his band of allies against the Machine Legion who have taken over the Torch City. After a brief meeting, his friend is arrested and it leads Ray to regain a sense of purpose in his life. He needs to get his friend back and take down the legion to reclaim the city using his giant metal fist. NES fans may find that part of the concept familiar as it does bear a resemblance to the cult classic Shatterhand, which never gained a lot of traction until it was re-released as a Nintendo Switch Online title.
F.I.S.T. takes the Metroidvania framework and puts it in a Shatterhand-style short-range action-platformer with a plot that evokes a bit of Star Wars in a world that feels right at home in Beyond Good & Evil. It’s a strange mashup in theory, but one that works masterfully in execution. Ray is a gruff rabbit who has seen younger days, but maybe not better days. There’s a sense that he’s grown world-weary and maybe lost a bit of his spark, but having friends taken away from him lights a fire under him that shows through to the player and makes the adventure feel more grounded than one would expect. Ray’s band of allies all do what they can to help him and in a nice subversion of gaming tropes, the in-game store actually offers the player a discount since you are trying to save the world and all.
F.I.S.T.‘s emphasis on world-building helps it stand out from a lot of Metroidvanias as does its steampunk world for the genre. Every major area the player uncovers reveals either a new ally or enemy, and in a rare instance for any platformer nowadays, emphasis is given to some of the goons as well. It’s interesting to roam into a new area and eavesdrop on them talking about how their boss — who you will meet up with at some point in this particular area — is so dangerous and hearing the legend grow about “the rabbit with a big metal arm.” There’s a little bit of a Batman mythos being built up around Ray in the underworld and it’s a touch that isn’t really seen outside of a Batman game. Not even other superhero games take that approach, but it helps make what the player is doing feel like they’re having an effect on the in-game world.
The beatings Ray dishes out to both robots and other animals have a sense of weight to them as a result — and man are they ever fun to do. F.I.S.T. has a weak/medium-strong combat system with grappling thrown in that’s diverse and helps keep the action flowing. Going from a light square button attack to a medium triangle attack and then a strong square button attack is organic. Circle is used as a grapple button to throw foes around and it can be a life-saver during crazy times. Sending a foe flying into another when you can only take a couple of hits can mean the difference between life and death in that situation. It’s also fun just to have short sections where you can just throw enemies into one another for an entire screen — beyond looking hilarious, it also showcases just how you can toss enemies wherever, which makes taking out flying foes easier.
The flow to combat is something that a lot of action-platformers struggle to get right, but F.I.S.T. nails it immediately and it only gets better as time goes on. The skill chain setup enables so many more kinds of attacks to be used — so you can launch an enemy upwards and then keep them there with an uppercut before unleashing a combo and then send them back down to Earth with a thunderous downward strike. It’s a lot of fun to just go through unlocking new attacks and tinkering with them in real-time to see what kind of results you get. It also helps make boss battles easier because you can take the in-game recommended approach to them or just mix that in to what you want to do with your combat flow for other sections.
Visually, F.I.S.T. is a striking game with a surprisingly-high amount of detail in all parts of the world. The metal-heavy setting results in gorgeous reflections that show off the polish of the empire’s area versus the rusted and well-worn areas of the resistance movement. Character movement is realistic enough, although there are odd-looking missed frames of animation during the in-engine cutscenes where missing frames take you out of the experience for a second. Luckily, it’s a brief issue and not something that hurts the game for a prolonged period of time. Beyond that, the lighting for things like various effects off of attacks are great and the light haze from various parts of the environment is realistic and adds an ominous feel to many parts of the adventure.
F.I.S.T.’s soundtrack is top-shelf and blends electronica with rock and a bit of metal to create something that keeps the blood pumping while also helping to create a somber mood. During the exploratory elements, the rock takes a backseat to more atmospheric music that still uses a harder instrumentation — but with slower music to help keep the player calm during platforming challenges. The voice work is impressive and the cast has great chemistry together — and that’s something that is rarely seen in Metroidvania-style games. Every major character plays off of one another logically and it feels like a game where people were in the same room recording their lines instead of having the work patched in later. The flow of conversations is organic and it makes the characters and their stakes come alive. The sound design using the Dual Sense is impressive as you’ll have little clanks for coins come through and get more feedback for heavy strikes that land versus light attacks. It’s a small touch, but it shows how much care went into things.
F.I.S.T. Forged in Shadow Torch is a must-buy for Metroidvania fans looking for something that tries new things. It takes the well-worn staples of the sub-genre and blends them with a steampunk feel and a richer storyline than most. It also dials up the combat game and makes sure that players always have new and exciting ways to pulverize enemies without turning the experience into a button-masher. Platforming challenges help freshen things up and add a minor puzzle-platforming element to the equation. F.I.S.T. controls like a dream, looks fantastic and has top-shelf sound design.