On first reading the synopsis of Spartan Fist, it seems like a fun romp with interesting mechanics that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Not a deep game, but a fun one to spend some time with. Does it live up to this or fail to deliver a punch?
Spartan Fist is a procedurally generated first-person puncher. In it, your character attempts to fight through four main arenas to retrieve the titular ‘Spartan Fist’. You initially start in typical tutorial fashion with nothing but the opportunity to do what the game tells you. You look around and move to acclimate and then you’re on your way, punching, dashing and jumping to the next area.
The gameplay of Spartan Fist is unfortunately fairly clunky. It has a lock-on system that triggers when certain actions are used, most commonly that of your main power. This lock-on system sometimes entirely breaks when using certain powers, causing glitches. And when it doesn’t break, it feels far too rigid and that often means it becomes tricky to pick out an enemy. Unfortunately, Spartan Fist needs this lock-on system, and that’s because its core gameplay isn’t strong enough without it and most special abilities require the lock-on in order for them to be functional. Yes, I’ve used the phrase “lock-on” too many times but I’m sure you can see the point.
Speaking of glitches, Spartan Fist contains an unnatural amount – both of the small and big varieties – and this totally destroys a decent chunk of the day-to-day experience. One particularly annoying bug is prevalent throughout Spartan Fist, and this essentially puts the visual for something, and the item itself, slightly apart from each other. For instance, a table that is one step ahead of you is actually two so you walk through the table only to be stopped by an invisible barrier just next to it. This results in you consistently warping inside of enemies which is both disorienting and annoying. This often ends here but the most frustrating iteration of this glitch is when your character falls through the floor in the third arena. Any player not required to play the game thoroughly may feel like they are entitled to put it down at this point, but I’ve not been so lucky.
Furthermore, its emphasis on procedurally generated environments means the bulk of the gameplay is unstructured and often very small. In total the entire game features four main arenas with different feels to them. They are unique in their atmosphere but once you’ve finished the game once – which may only take 30 minutes to an hour – there isn’t much point in going back. The customization itself is pretty bland too, and doesn’t affect the way you play the game besides from making it easier. A good model to focus on for games of this style would be The Binding Of Issac, admittedly a high bar for procedural games. It offers multiple characters to play and unlocks new ways of shaping tears, areas, items and effects. Spartan Fist, on the other hand, offers fairly shallow upgrade systems and no changes to the core gameplay. Yes, it is better than nothing and worth commending, but it’s hard to not hope for what it could have been rather than what it is.
Whilst there are negative points, there are thankfully some commendable things in Spartan Fist. Its tone, for instance, is fitting and works well. It has a ‘chip punk’ soundtrack featuring some distorted guitars and synth melodies. This, combined with the framing of the text and little story, suggests the game itself doesn’t really care about what it is. This story works in its favour – that of someone going round punching things suits the punk style down to the ground.
Spartan Fist’s visuals are another factor that is noticeably fitting throughout one’s playtime. Its grungy UI and clean voxel art graphics work well together. Furthermore, the particle effects on blood (and rainbows if that’s what you’re into) look great and often add a layer of viscera to each encounter. The visuals when it comes to enemies and bosses are simple yet effective. And after your first completion, you piece together the identity of each enemy. They’re distinct and different in their approach meaning you understand how to start each encounter.
This visual design is often squandered by how easy the game is to manipulate and how little the bosses vary in their attack. Boss encounters are easy and often rely on repeating a press of the same button until you win. This can be done with the rat fist or feather fist. The rat fist weapon uses a drill special attack which essentially spins you around the enemy, working wonders on bosses as they’re slow and it allows you to get behind them quickly. The feather fist sends you into the air and then crashes you back down to hit your enemy. This is a good design but no enemies are built to attack upwards and bosses have a short platform above them which you can stand on. This means you can just keep repeating these attacks until you win. If this were a long game this could be overlooked, but as it’s only short, wins should feel rewarding and not a given.
Overall Spartan Fist feels stylized and does have interesting ideas, but it could well benefit from more polish – it has a plethora of annoying glitches and offers very little content, even at its price point. There are weekly and daily challenges to keep you busy, but ultimately they don’t add anything interesting. Spartan Fist on Xbox One has some good traits and I’m very interested to hear what the team does after this, but this title ends up as being disappointing and can’t live up to its synopsis. In fact, a large portion of playtime will be spent with you being annoyed at the frustrating gameplay. Luckily, it doesn’t last that long.