Upon initially discovering this game for the first time, you would be forgiven for mistaking an Iron Fisticle as some kind of bizarre sex act. While it’s unlikely to give quite that much pleasure (or pain), the indie title is a very entertaining, retro-themed arena shooter that specialises in fun-filled mayhem.
Iron Fisticle’s closest living relatives are Smash TV and Robotron, and it shares a lot of the same DNA with its twin stick control system (one for movement, one for direction of fire). The game pits you against swathes of enemies that you are required to wipe out before you can move on to the next room. Primarily, you do this by hurling axes into the oncoming masses, but a variety of power ups help to make your task somewhat easier. You can choose your path through the level, but eventually you will wrap around to a boss fight that breaks up the action and provides a fresh challenge.
Ultimately, Iron Fisticle is a score attack game. As you kill enemies, many of them drop items that provide extra points, but occasionally you will receive new weaponry that further enables your quest for mass murder. You’ll get daggers and arrows that shoot out in an arc, hammers that bounce off of walls, and flamethrowers which are just plain fun to use. You’ll also get to use the titular iron fist to destroy enemies in a certain radius, although you can only use this ability a limited number of times. Some items such as gems and letters are collectable, giving you massive bonuses if you complete the whole set. Trying to push your way further up the online leaderboard is a great incentive to keep returning to the Gaunlet-inspired dungeon world of Iron Fisticle.
The element of replayability is central to the design of the game. The more monsters you take out, the more you level up, meaning that your stats increase (such as max health and increased damage), which help you progress further on subsequent playthroughs. These increases really give you a sense of progression that makes you feel like you’re achieving something.
Iron Fisticle is as tough as its name implies. There are no difficulty settings, so once you run out of health, you’ll have to start again from scratch. The game does inform you that playing with a gamepad rather than a keyboard will alleviate some of your problems, but it is perfectly playable with a keyboard if required.
As a nice touch, Iron Fisticle allows you to turn on scanlines for that unique retro feel. Even though there are progressive elements, options like this mean that Iron Fisticle feels decidedly old school through its run-and-gun, quick bursts of gameplay and challenging difficulty.
To break up the action, the game throws in a few 2D bonuses stages where you have to leap over obstacles on a scrolling level. While these sections are not required, they do provide a change of pace amid the slaughter – although platforming can be difficult to control. Since this isn’t the main element of the game, this can easily be ignored.
When starting the game, you get the option of beginning from any floor that you’ve been to previously, making Iron Fisticle a perfect game to quickly jump into, to try to push on a bit further, or is suitable for longer playthroughs if you start at floor one. Don’t expect to memorise enemy attack patterns though, since each floor is randomly generated, providing a unique experience every time.
Developed by a two-man team over a four year period, Iron Fisticle, with its charming aesthetic to its unpredictable dungeons and unmistakable personality, feels like a labour of love, and you should love it too.