Review – Fights in Tight Spaces
There are three criteria to making a video game truly great, in my humble opinion. The first is for the concept to be a unique premise, or at least a storyline that manages to catch players off-guard. Although Pony Island is now kind of a tired trope (and even was at launch), the way it was executed got me to sit up and pay attention, playing the whole ordeal through in one sitting. The second is polish, in terms of how the game handles. I don’t care if you have cinema-level graphics or if it’s just a pile of ugly pixels, it has to perform and come across the way it’s meant to. The Bit.Trip series are a perfect example of simple design done with pinpoint precision.
The last, and the most important, is that I need to suck at it. Even if I think it’s going to be easy and fun initially, I have to be next to screaming at my console/computer/smart fridge by the end, if not earlier. Did you think that I finish games for a sense of accomplishment? I finish them out of spite. So, I can confidently say that Fights in Tight Spaces ticks the boxes on all three points, and the last with an unnecessarily dramatic flourish.
Alright, I get it: we love to see the insane action sequences that come from movies like Taken, John Wick, and My Dinner With Andre. Playing those out in a video game can be so satisfying when you hit the right sequences. But what if there was a way to do the whole thing while adding a chaotic element of deck building and lucky card drawing? Enter Fights in Tight Spaces, an innovative take on the deck building genre that combines the strategy of Slay the Spire with the fine tuned actions of games like SUPERHOT.
You are Agent 11, a Bond-esque spy who seeks to infiltrate a series of organizations and locations to take down the big boss in control of all that crime you hate so much. You’ve got a series of improvised weapons like shuriken and hidden knives, as well as your own body, the deadliest tool imaginable. But you also have decided that you need to carefully measure out how you’ll approach each encounter through a limited number of moves and actions, each one choreographed in a beautiful ballet of blood, bullets and briefcases. Draw the right cards, plan out your movement across the small arena, and make mayhem and violence in an attempt to complete your mission by any means necessary.
Like most great deckbuilding games, Fights in Tight Spaces is one of those titles where you’ll pick up on the basics pretty quickly and then watch the game expand wildly out of your grasp. At first, you have three basic kinds of cards: move, offense, and defense. Each card has a certain amount of energy needed to use it, and you have a limited amount of energy per turn: pretty straightforward. You then add in the “momentum” effect, where certain cards will deal more damage or have better effects based on the cards you played previously.
There are some cards that cost zero energy to use, effectively letting you do free actions (which are always beneficial), and then ones that have conditions to them. Defensive cards add block points, which can absorb damage and, if the card is right, triggers counter attacks. Easily one of my favorite cards and one of the first you get is the Head Smash, where you’re able to do fantastic amounts of damage to an opponent as long as they are next to a wall, table or some other object. So you can smash their head against something. The name of the card is pretty self explanatory, and the effect is…well, it’s wild.
The AI in Fights in Tight Spaces is what helps to build the strategic element from something that could be a straightforward murderdeck into a real contest of planning, both for your survival and also to make enemies feel dumb. The right amount of steps will force some enemies to put themselves between you and an open doorway or window, which is a great opportunity for you to kick them out of bounds and end their existence immediately. Gunsmiths sometimes have the idea to shoot first, move later, so getting another enemy in their line of fire before your turn ends means watching henchmen shoot each other in the face because that’s how game logic works.
The first major boss you meet (who looks like if Santa Claus got super into white supremacy) straight up punched a minor enemy to death because the idiot was standing between him and me. That’s how you run a biker gang, through blind, pointless rage. But many other enemies use careful planning, and you need to watch how many actions they get per turn. There’s nothing worse than finding out that the psycho wearing a butcher’s apron can move AND filet in a single turn, and now I’m bleeding in a warehouse somewhere because I can’t count to two.
Visually, the SUPERHOT comparison comes through for Fights in Tight Spaces due to everything being red and white, with small touches of color to accentuate landscapes or items you need to pick up. It also reminded me a lot of the now defunct Square Enix Go strategy games, specifically Hitman Go. While those games tended to be more puzzle based and not-horrifically-gory, people familiar with the Go titles will see the comparison of taking something action packed and turning it into a thinkpiece in brutality and cunning.
Even with just white and red to work with, you end up with a great balance of starkness and detail. Though you never get something as simple as facial features, you begin to recognize what you might be in for based on character shapes and design. The mini boss wielding twin sawed-off shotguns didn’t come out and say “I’M A LADY,” but the ponytail and leather jacket let me know that the Big Boss of Crime promotes equally, and isn’t that all we really want to see out in the world?
As the gameplay of Fights in Tight Spaces expands and the thumping soundtrack drives you forward, you need to start balancing more and more difficult aspects. Taking too much damage adds an injury card to your deck, effectively hamstringing a single, precious slot in your turn choices. You begin to move in different ways, vaulting over tables, flipping over bad guys and literally pushing them in opposing directions like you’ve taken a scene straight from The Matrix and added it to your game. You realize that bleed damage is one of the best effects for a game where you’re less concerned about the time bonuses and more concerned about not dying, and so you hurl throwing stars and use hidden blades with reckless abandon.
The maps will branch out as you proceed with your missions, letting you decide: will I go to the medical station and spend cash (that you got from kicking ass) to heal, or will I hit the gym and buy new cards to make the Cirque Du Sang sing even louder? The gym is almost always the best choice: even if you don’t get new cards, you can spend cash to upgrade existing cards, making them more powerful without increasing their prices. A single boost to Quick Block turned it into a 12 defense card, nullifying most attacks for the price of nothing.
But damn, this game gets hard. With multiple difficulty settings, Fights in Tight Spaces can adapt and adjust to suit you however you wish to punish yourself. Allow for replays of certain failed fights or make it so a single loss ends the whole run, whichever your masochistic self prefers. I just had to keep throwing myself into the runs again and again because I ran outta cash and then reached the final boss with single digit health, which is never a way to make anything go smoothly.
I would rewatch the awesome replays to see where I went wrong, and this is another aspect of Fights in Tight Spaces that’s hit or miss depending on how you do. With good strategy and the right cards, you look like a seriously awesome dude, stepping in all suave and dispatching baddies without your tie so much as flapping loose. On the other hand, when you fail you get to see yourself square-dance in the corner where everyone comes and takes turns punching you in the back of the head. It’s like revisiting embarrassing home videos and saying “Why did I even go to assassin school in the first place?”
Deck building games gone digital are my favorite thing. You create a great environment for people who love to customize and hunt for the perfect card without occupying too much space or currency. In the future, we might see Fights in Tight Spaces expand to include booster packs and such, but that’s not the reality of today. Now, we get a fully formed, visually pleasing, conceptually sound game that sits in both camps comfortably. It’s fun, it’s replayable, it’s frustrating as all hell when you just can’t get the right movement card to get out of a sticky spot, and it keeps drawing me back in to prove that I’m not a loser. I may keep getting killed during missions, but I’m doing it with style, and that’s all anyone can ask of me. Okay, they can ask that I complete the mission and not die, but hey. Baby steps.
The minimalist design helps to accentuate what you’re doing and how cool it looks doing it.
Excellent card choices mean no two games will go the same way.
An engaging soundtrack that feels like if Hotline Miami did a Bond score.
All notes of frustration aside, I kept coming back because a good hand is just so good to see.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Fights in Tight Spaces is available now on PC and Xbox One.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Fights in Tight Spaces was provided by the publisher.