Iron Fisticle, review of.

Iron Fisticle asks the question ‘How well can you keep it together with your back against the wall?’ Developed by Confused Pelican this game is a dual-stick top-down carnage fest whose gameplay and visual style hearkens back to the glory days of blowing two weeks’ worth of allowance money in a single afternoon at the video arcade. It is claustrophobic, tense, bombastic, and worthy of a critical look. Button Mashing turns the table and now asks the question: How well can Iron Fisticle keep it together with its back against the wall?

Mechanically, the game is straight forward and familiar. The player controls an armored knight and uses his default battle axe and other various weapon power-ups to carve his way through waves of ever-pursuing enemies, enduring and maneuvering through the levels of the game.

The level design, though modest, is deliberate. The game map consists of only four floors. Each floor contains battle chambers, increasing in total number with each higher floor, wherein the main carnage occurs. Each chamber is a single screen, no panning or roaming around, and has its own structural obstacles which can help or hinder your gameplay: make one false move and you will yelp with horror as you find yourself suddenly cornered; make one smart move and you will mow down your enemies without mercy. Between the patchwork of chambers are different types of connectors which host either a ‘bonus stage’ or a shop for power-ups or nothing at all and you just move right on to the next chamber.

Come at me, Bro!

Come at me, Bro!

Know this: Iron Fisticle is not a dungeon crawler. Exploration has no place here. Literally. There simply isn’t room for it. The arrangement of chambers is clustered instead of labyrinthine. Your end goal – the boss – is clearly labeled on the map of every floor. The game will even stymie your attempts to wander through each floor (no back tracking!) as if to flush you out into the presence of the floor’s boss. Chambers are not grand arenas nor do they house hidden nooks with super sweet loot. This choking sense of immediacy smothers out any need or desire or thought for exploration.

Iron Fisticle’s narrow, claustrophobic scope is its greatest strength. It doesn’t try to be more than it is, washing out the potency and crunch of the gameplay. It doesn’t try to be anything else, though some extra effort into the presentation would help the game stand out – more on this later.

Indeed, part of the challenge of battling in such a claustrophobic space is trying to maintain both a microscopic and macroscopic view simultaneously. Each chamber quickly becomes clogged with enemies. So, while you are hacking away at the immediate threats you must at the same time keep an eye out for minute openings and empty pockets which you can use to maneuver the mindless mob, and position yourself to best utilize your timed powerups.

There is also just the right amount of types of enemies. The game balances quantity and differentiation very well, prompting you to make realtime decisions in movement based on how much of what is coming at you. Enemies are not in a frenzied rage but are still persistent, so persistent.

Focus fire these little pricks ASAP

Focus fire these little pricks ASAP

Most of the time the safest place to be, whatever the situation, is with your back against the wall, skirting the perimeter. Overtime a satisfying momentum is established; once you get rolling it’s hard to call it a night.

A major speed bump to this momentum is the ‘bonus level’. The bonus level switches gears from top-down slaughterfest to sidescrolling jumper. The obstacles and loot are randomly generated and the controls are laggy. These levels are not only pointless but botches up your mojo, your tempo, your pulse. They kill the momentum. They are not very bonus-like: You will see 5X more coinage in a regular slaughter chamber than in the entire run of the bonus level, and the rewards for completing it are also rather piddly. There is very little motivation to take the bonus levels seriously. More often than not, as my veins are still pumping neon adrenaline from playing a previous chamber, I take the first opportunity to perish in a bonus level just so I can move on to the next chamber.

Though the claustrophobia is practically palpable while in the chambers, the game gives the player a gratifying amount of elbow room when it comes to the metagame – another one of the game’s strong points. Once you beat a boss and enter a new floor, that new floor is now available for you to jump to from the title screen – a design that is sure to make any roguelike purist scream to the heavens. Likewise, some of the connectors between chambers are shops where, from four randomly generated items, you can purchase ability upgrades or health. Some of these ability upgrades are permanent, carrying over into the next game. These options – these freedoms – provide an opportunity for players to tailor their experience with Iron Fisticle.

The most important freedom the game gives you is the option to erase all progress data. Because, admittedly, once you’ve maxed out your avatar the game quickly looses steam. You are so tremendously OP that there is little challenge left. So, reset that sucker back to level zero and experiment with your own self-imposed restrictions during another playthrough. Yes. The replay value is subtle but quite tremendous.

Aside from the lame-duck presence of the bonus levels, the only other area of improvement involves the lack of attention to details in the rest of the presentation. Particularly, more love could have been given to the audio which could bolster stronger, more confident gameplay and add character to the game overall. There are times when the game gets delightfully chaotic, a mishmash of activity. During these moments I’d like to hear more from my avatar, something other than the indiscernible grunts when taking damage and disgust when you pick up certain loot. The ‘taking damage’ soundbyte needs to be more pronounced, so I can hear just how much heat I’m taking and can try to GTFO. Hoots and hollars, taunts and jabs, praises to GabeN. Something! The same goes for footsteps. It is just this robotic clunk-clunk-clunk, regardless of the frothy viscera that is smeared all over the floor. Let’s hear some sqishyness!

This may seem nitpicky, but attention to little details like audio and health bar and bonus bank placement can really go a long way. It can ultimately help raise Iron Fisticle above the din and come into the focus of many more perspective gamers – a place where the game belongs.

Held up against the wall, Iron Fisticle does indeed keep itself together. It is unadulterated arcade action but could have been more outstanding with just a little more attention to details in the presentation. It recognizes the focused scope it which it operates and does not overextend itself. Solo or co-op the game is an absolute blast to play, just as were the arcade boxes of old.

(Couldn't resist)

(Couldn’t resist)

Weekend Gaming

Fall is here, which means earlier sunsets, cooler nights and MORE TIME FOR GAMING!

This weekend looks like it’s going to be heavy on the Dota for me. The new patch has come out and every Dota fan is out there, analyzing all the changes. This includes comparing patches and game changes to the Fashion Industry and the idea of a giant snowball of death.

I love it all. I’m particularly interested in trying a couple of things. They gave Timbersaw (#3 on my personal list of favorite Heroes) A SECOND CHAKRAM. (For you Dota Newbies, Timbersaw throws out a whirling blade that spins in place, damaging heroes caught in it and slowing them). In my mind, I see a Venn Diagram of two Chakrams, with Riki or Sniper caught in the intersection.

I also would like to try the newly re-worked Phantom Lancer. Phantom Lancer was fun to play before and the new changes make his strategy completely different. He looks fun, too.

And finally, three games have come out recently that are getting good reviews and I want to try: Gauntlet, Shadow of Mordor and Defense Grid 2. It will be very hard to resist picking one of them up very soon.

So it’s Dota and whatever else tickles my fancy this weekend. How about you?

What are you playing?

Weekend Gaming

So having finally finished Halo 4 (a post or two should be forthcoming [he says trepidatiously]), it’s time to move on to another old triple-A title i purchased at full price over a year ago and am just now getting around to giving it the time of day: Bioshock Infinite. I started BI when it first came out, but lost interest for reasons that elude me now. I was enjoying it and I like the Bioshock Universe but something distracted me and I never went back.

Speaking of going back, I am now in the thick of a horrendous losing streak. I’m afraid to look to see how many it is, as I stopped counting after 8 or 9. I’d like to chalk it up to playing so many games of the new mode, All Random Death Match (another topic for another post), but it’s not that easy, as I was losing games before the ARDM game mode became available. That being said, I anticipate playing at least a match or two this weekend, to see if I can finally get off the shnide.

So it’s Bioshock Infinite and Dota 2 for me. What will you be playing?

September Releases

We’re starting to roll into holiday season, which means we’re approaching Peak Video Games. September is still not flush with games like October and November usually are, but it’s shaping up to be solid. With that said, on to this month’s releases:

Xbox One

Week of September 2nd
WARRIORS OROCHI 3 Ultimate

Week of September 9th
Destiny – September might as well be Destinytember, it’s launching on all platforms and it’s going to be the most played game for a while. I am debating on the PC version or the 360 version, but I think I’ll be giving Destiny a try, for sure.
NHL 15

Week of September 23rd
FIFA 15

Week of September 30th
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – Assassin’s Creed: Middle Earth was showing really well earlier, but the news about this game has slowed to a trickle. Not sure that’s exactly a good thing.
Forza Horizon 2
Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes


Week of September 9th
NHL 15

Week of September 16th
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution: Day 1 Edition

Week of September 23rd
FIFA 15

Week of September 30th
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
Forza Horizon 2
Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes


Week of September 23rd
Hyrule Warriors – Not a great month for Nintendo this month, but I’ve read a lot of positive buzz coming out about Hyrule Warriors. I don’t think it will be a game for me, but will it be a boon for Nintendo?


Week of September 16th
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call
Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appetit!

Week of September 23rd
FIFA 15


Week of September 2nd
Planetary Annihilation Collectors Edition
Gauntlet
The Sims 4

Week of September 16th
How to Survive

Week of September 23rd
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
FIFA 15
Stronghold Crusader 2 – This font and title look dangerously close to Crusader King’s logo. Like “let’s see who we can trick into buying our game because they thought they were getting something associated with Crusader Kings” dangerous.

Week of September 30th
Crimes & Punishments – Sherlock Holmes


PS4 Banner

Week of September 2nd
WARRIORS OROCHI 3 Ultimate

Week of September 9th
Destiny
NHL 15

Week of September 16th
Air Conflicts: Vietnam

Week of September 23rd
FIFA 15
NAtURAL DOCtRINE

Week of September 30th
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes


Week of September 2nd
Darksiders II

Week of September 9th
NHL 15
Destiny

Week of September 16th
Fairy Fencer F
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution: Day 1 Edition

Week of September 23rd
NAtURAL DOCtRINE
Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star
FIFA 15

Week of September 30th
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes


Week of September 2nd
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Week of September 23rd
FIFA 15
Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX!!!!!

Week of September 30th
NAtURAL DOCtRINE

What are you picking up this month?
(Note: As always, all Amazon.com links have our affiliate code embedded in them. If you purchase something through our link, we get a little commission. It’s appreciated.)

Weekend Gaming: Hearthstone, Anathem, not Divinity: Original Sin

For this weekend I foresee myself giving a disproportionate amount of attention between Hearthstone and Neal Stephenson’s tome Anathem.

Not a video game.

Not a video game.

Somewhere around the time when my tooth pain (as can be read in the previous WG post) was getting the better me and when I was growing weary of Divinity:Original Sin I decided that I needed an upheaval – or, a restructuring, if you will – of my leisure time activities. I was in a gaming slump. And when things get like that I take it as an indication that I am in need of some Analog Time. I’m not going full-on Luddite; this is not a post decrying technology. But every now and then I need to tip the scale in favor of the printed word. Anathem continues to be just the book for the job. The book’s length and subject matter demand a heady dedication if there is any hope of making it through to the end. Which means that, on many evenings, this requires me to power down the computer and burrow in with my reading lamp.

Although the Gaming & Book scale has been tipped, do note, as indicated, that the whole contraption has not toppled. Hearthstone is the perfect game for filling in those semi-brief blocks of time when I’m not reading Anathem. Currently, I’m not so much concerned about the ladder climb than become better acquainted with the classes I’ve yet to play, namely Paladin, Warlock and Warrior. I eased into the Druid pretty well this past week, and I still hate opposing Mages. Hunters are all the rage now but I’ve been able to manage and tame the majority I’ve come up against. I still have to give Arena a serious try – Maybe this weekend, maybe not. I’m amassing a decent chunk of gold so maybe I’ll buy into a Naaxramas wing. What to do. What to do. So many possibilities.

Concerning Divinity: Original Sin… Too often I would think, Man, this game really makes me want to play XCOM. Indeed. I enjoy the tactics, even the inventory management. But I am not all that invested in the story (I rarely am in video games). This apathy combined with the game’s lack-of-hand-holding (which I do not bemoan) does not sync well over time. I’m not quite sure where to go next, and the thought of fishing through lines of dialog with NPCs to trigger a quest that points me in the right direction makes me grunt. So, Divinity and I are in a stalemate right now. Man, this game really makes me want to play XCOM. And wouldn’t you know it: XCOM along with select other 2K games are on sale this weekend on Steam.

What are you playing this weekend?

P.S. The cause of my tooth pain was never really identified. I heard three different answers from three different dental professionals. And yet, the pain originating from my second molar persisted. The dentist subscribed an antibiotic and a pain killer, which was completely ineffective. We tried a root canal, which was a bumbling failure. At my wits end and contrary to professional advice I decided to just have the stupid thing pulled. The process was Medieval and awesome and horrible and brief. And now, three days later, this is the most comfortable I have felt in a month.

Not a video game.

Not a video game.

August Releases

August is traditionally the last month before the glut of game releases begins in earnest. It’s usually when Madden is released and a whole bunch of shovelware that studios want to get out the door before they start launching their heavy hitters in anticipation of the Fall and Holiday seasons. This year, August actually has a few games that aren’t Madden that are still worth a look or two.

With that said, on to this month’s releases:

Xbox One

Week of August 19th
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition – I’m still not sure why Diablo III didn’t do it for me the way Diablo II did. I also wonder if the console version is worth the time. Either way, Diablo III has a faithful fanbase and they love them some console Diablo.

Week of August 26th
Madden NFL 15 – With everything that EA is dealing with concerning the Ed O’Bannon case, this year marked the first time in over a decade that they didn’t release an NCAA version of their football game. Even though it was Madden’s neglected younger cousin, it was a fan favorite among college football fans, myself included. And since last year’s cover was graced by Denard Robinson, a former University of Meatchicken Skunk Weasel, I guess my run with EA’s NCAA ended two years ago. That’s all to say I loved NCAA Football and never cared for Madden. I don’t think I’ll care this year, either.
Metro Redux


Week of August 5th
Darksiders – Collection
Ultra Street Fighter IV – One thing Capcom can never be accused of is being unoriginal with their iterative titles.
Sacred 3 – Sacred 3 is intriguing to me. Way back in the day, (five years ago, to be exact), we were provided a copy of Sacred 2 for review. James reviewed and gave it a solid “BUY” rating back then. I’ve played it, and while it was rough around the edges, it had its moments. With the eminent release of Sacred 3, I am intrigued. I don’t think it will have the tactical depth of Divinity: Original Sin, but I think it could be a fun hack-and-slash romp. I’m putting this on my “definitely maybe” list. (But I’ll probably pick up the already released PC version)

Week of August 12th
Risen 3: Titan Lords
World of Tanks

Week of August 19th
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

Week of August 26th
Madden NFL 15


No new releases for the Nintendo Wii U for the month of August. (not a good sign)


Week of August 5th
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Week of August 26th
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney


Week of August 5th
Ultra Street Fighter IV
MX vs. ATV: Alive + Supercross
Red Faction – Collection
Darksiders – Collection
Weather Lord: In Pursuit of the Shaman – (Included for completeness sake, and a totally bonkers name of a game. Weather Lord? Seriously?)

Week of August 12th
Risen 3 – Titan Lords

Week of August 19th
Week of August 26th
Metro 2033 Redux
Metro: Last Light Redux
Metro Redux


PS4 Banner

Week of August 19th
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare

Week of August 26th
Madden NFL 15
Metro Redux
inFAMOUS First Light


Week of August 5th
Darksiders – Collection
Red Faction – Collection
Ultra Street Fighter IV
Sacred 3

Week of August 12th
AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed
Risen 3: Titan Lords

Week of August 19th
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare

Week of August 26th
Madden NFL 15
Tales of Xillia 2


Week of August 12th
Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited
AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed

Week of August 26th
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1

(Note: As always, all Amazon.com links have our affiliate code embedded in them. If you purchase something through our link, we get a little commission. It’s appreciated.)

Weekend Gaming: Monday Report – Hearthstone, Divinity: Original Sin

I am going to just go ahead and break convention by doing a Weekend Gaming post on Monday. Look at me. I am so defiant. You can’t control me, patriarch!

Friday was an awesome non-gaming day. I’m glad that Demolition Derbies have pretty much become an annual family tradition. But , it was Saturday evening before I the opportunity to load any games, and even then the circumstances and motivations were quite unique. Indeed. So, long story short: I have some dental discomfort going on for a couple weeks now. The one tooth in the bottom left hand side is chipped and may have a partially exposed nerve or infection or something. But like a dummy I had just kind of ignored the discomfort (and the phone number of the Endodonist). That is, until Saturday afternoon while our family was at the zoo when the discomfort jolted into pain. We were able to get hold of our family dentist, and she called in some meds. Therefore, my Saturday evening was spent playing Hearthstone while feeling all droopy on pain killers. Likewise, I also needed to do something to keep my mind occupied, away from the abated pain and frustration at myself for waiting to get this problem resolved.

Perhaps it was this slightly altered state of mind but I decided to finally begin climbing the Hearthstone ranked play ladder, one of the modes of competitive play. Again, I do not know why I had waited so long to do this (Clearly I have an issue with dilly dallying) because this has been the most consistent fun I’ve had. For the first time I feel like the game has evenly matched me with other players, as opposed to the ‘Casual’ mode where the match-ups feel very hit and miss.

Perhaps because of this slightly altered state of mind, this weekend also witnessed other changes in my Hearthstone routine. I decided that I need to play the game in 3-match clumps with some downtime inbetween. This way I don’t get all tilted and can think constructively about my losses, which is much-needed while building a Shaman deck. Another change I made concerns the music.  Quaint as the in-game music is, this weekend was also when I decided to drop that options bar all the way to zero (0) and then stream in some righteous stoner jams from my favorite Youtube channel. This keeps me in the zone, keeps me from getting upset, keeps me on top of what is current in the scene, and it doubly kept me from singling out the excruciating pain in my tooth. I love win-win-win-win-win situations. Overall, during the course of Saturday and Sunday, I managed to climb seven positions in the ladder without too many embarrassing losses.  Now I just need to work up the minerals to try the Arena. I might need stronger pain killers for that.

On other fronts: After an awful and near-sleepless Saturday night, I was able to poke around for a little bit in Divinity: Original Sin on Sunday morning. I was not in the mindset for battle or exploration, which was well-timed because my characters’ inventory was out.of.control. and needed addressed. So, when I learned that you can place empty treasure chests in your inventory (did you know you can place empty treasure chests in your inventory!?), I made haste to the church yard in north eastern Cyseal. Scattered there amid the toxin seeping ground are maybe half dozen chests.  I plucked those up and took them and the rest of my inventory-loaded/pack mule party members to the one empty house in town. There, I set up a base of operations which now includes a stock room of treasure chests stuffed with items for future use or – more likely – to be sold. Good stuff. One of my favorite aspects of this game is discovering little quirks and conveniences in the mechanics. I’m sure Tony has thoughts about the game as well. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from him?

Weekend Gaming

phantom_lancerIt’s been a while since we’ve discussed what weekend gaming plans you have, so here’s a weekend gaming thread to plan out your weekend!

For me, I am about 3 hours in to Divinity Original Sin and I’m starting to get into a comfortable groove with it. I like the turn-based RPG mechanics, I like the setting and the story doesn’t make me roll my eyes (even though it took a weird turn early). I plan on putting some serious time in with Divinity.

I’m also hyped because this weekend is the finals for the Dota 2 Championship, The International 4. It may be a sign of things to come, but ESPN will actually be broadcasting the Finals and showing a Dota 2 Special Sunday night on ESPN 2.

So ya, in addition to playing Divinity, I’ll be watching Dota 2 as well.

I also dusted off my 3DS and plan on visiting my Animal Crossing town, which almost certainly has fallen into disrepair. I hope the animals recognize me.

What will you be playing?

Hearthstone and Sucesses in Fatherhood

Parenthood. Ain’t it something? I am 6.5 years into my parenting venture now. Never before have I valued quiet as feverishly as I do now, nor have I before been aware how frustration can reach such a severity that vision will actually blur. When I was a young man I’d giggle whenever Homer Simpson would grab Bart by the throat: “Why you little…” – tee hee, such a silly cartoon. I can now attest that those feelings are real. So, so very real. But, this post shall not be a sounding board for the ills and hardships of parenting. It shall instead be one of gratitude and praise to a collective experience I share with my 6.5 year old.

Mitchell and I play Hearthstone. We play Hearthstone a lot. We’ll pull up chairs and play it on the desktop. We’ll crowd around on the floor and play it on the iPad. We may play separately. We may play together, tag-teaming against our foes. One may play while the other spectates, then we’ll switch seats. Sometimes we quibble about what card to play next. He gets upset when he loses a match. He is a sore loser, a trait he gets from his old man. But, for a kid who is only weeks away from entering the first grade he sure can hold his own in a given match.

Yes, Hearthstone has been a terrific learning tool for Mitchell. I see him calculating basic arithmetic on his fingers, making sure he can eliminate the highest threat priority while still maintaining board presence. He is developing the skill of knowing when to strike face versus minion. His reading and vocabulary skills are honing; he now and forever knows what ‘adjacent’ means. Not only is he working on comprehension of card functions but he also devises strategies from these functions. Sometimes the strategies work. Sometimes they do not.

The game is helping him develop analytic skills along with emotional skills. I made the mistake of showing him the Concede button in the options menu. So, every so often whenever his strategic idea blows up in his face, he wants to bail on the match: “I’m gonna lose anyways!” I feel his frustration because, when I am playing, I too so often want to throw my arms up in early, bitter defeat. When Mitchell get this way I try to raise above this – above my own tendencies – and be that idyllic wise father and salve his angst, to encourage him to take another turn, draw another card, to work with the surprises and upsets that come from luck and randomness. You can’t control everything, but you can certainly choose to control what you do have.

One night a couple of weeks ago I was working as a stagehand for a local awards ceremony. It was overall going to be an easy gig because these types of programs practically run themselves. Knowing this beforehand I brought the iPad with the intent of situating myself in utility room, close enough that I was able to maintain a presence should I be needed but far enough away that, when the time was right, I could inconspicuously play some Hearthstone. The program began a couple minutes late at 7:05 PM. I performed my light responsibilities during the early parts of the program and then retreated to the utility room. At 7:30PM tapped the Hearthstone app. I was few turns into the match when Battlenet disconnected me and presented this message, “This Battle.net account just logged into Hearthstone from another device. This client was disconnected because only one connection is supported at a time.” I grinned from ear to ear. I looked at the clock and inferred from the given time that everybody at home had finished dinner, finished chores: Now is the leisure hour before bedtime, and Mitchell is playing himself some Hearthstone! I didn’t want to interfere. I closed out the Hearthstone app. Some twenty minutes later my wife texts me:

 

Mitchell excitedly explained

to me how he won

and all I got out of

it was 16 healths and 6

something’s. He also

just asked me to pray

he could beat somebody.

I told him we don’t do

that, but he won anyways :)

 

I gushed with pride at this. GUSHED! This text is the perfect summation and confirmation of one of my few successes in fatherhood. It also shows a work in progress. For as mind-numbingly frustrated that this little boy can make me I am glad that he and I find common ground in Hearthstone. I probably wouldn’t play it as much if it wasn’t for our collective experiences with it. The experience for me is more than just playing Hearthstone – more than just playing the same game as Mitchell, sharing it with him – but it is in standing back, keeping an attentive distance and just observing my son’s brain grow and develop in both hemispheres. I am grateful that Hearthstone can provide so much for us.

In My Digital Hands

divinty_original_sin

I missed this when it was being Kickstart’ed, but have been hearing great things about it.

I’m hoping to do a live stream and hopefully turning that into a Let’s Play video. The first of hopefully many such video endeavors. Check back for more info, hopefully later this evening!