F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch | Game Review | Not Quite Like My Childhood
Read our nostalgic review of F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch, a 2.5D Metroidvania with animal heroes! The game has good combat, but lacks lightheartedness. Score: 7/10.
Buy: Xbox Series X|S
Buy: Xbox Series X|S
Check this review out in video form!
Sometimes, I think about how video games used to be. I grew up on a combination of Sonic the Hedgehog, Gex, and Croc, and then graduated to Spyro, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Ratchet & Clank. There was some Blinx: The Time Sweeper in there somewhere as well. I obviously played some games in between, but I feel like these were the games that shaped me. What do they all have in common?
Anthropomorphized animal mascots.
This style of family-friendly game was all the rage in the PS1 and PS2 era, and was somehow able to exist alongside the more mature titles that laid the groundwork for the games we enjoy today. And yet, the age of the high-profile animal mascot game tragically came to a close at some point in the late 2000s, and my innocence evaporated along with it.
So when F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch appeared, my ears perked up a little bit. It certainly looks like a modern example of those classic games, but does it hold a candle to the greats? Let’s find out in this review of F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch on the Xbox Series X.
F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch was developed by TiGames and published by bilibili. Both developer and publisher are based out of Shanghai, and F.I.S.T. represents a portion of the wave of Chinese-developed action games that have been making a splash in the West lately.
As a Chinese developer, information on TiGames is scarce (information I can read, at least). From what I can tell, they put out one other game called Ancient Amuletor VR, an action/tower defense game with co-op. F.I.S.T. couldn’t be more different in terms of presentation or mechanics, but it does carry a similar level of polish that speaks well for the studio. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s definitely impressive coming from the new kids on the block.
Imitation or Inspiration?
Perhaps I assumed that F.I.S.T. would be a third-person action/platformer. It was a safe bet considering I didn’t know much about the title before I installed it. To my surprise, it’s actually a 2.5D Metroidvania! And not a bad one at that.
This was a pretty delightful turn of events. I’m in a particularly good position to evaluate this style of game since I’m also playing through Metroid: Dread, the current gold standard for the genre. Surprise! F.I.S.T. doesn’t really come close to that game in terms of level design, flow, or presentation. Few games do, so that’s not saying much.
However, that’s not to say that you should pass on F.I.S.T. It has plenty of voice acting that ranges from serviceable to good, a great sense of exploration, and a combat system that evolves over time. You start off with a standard array of light attacks, heavy attacks, and a throw, but the skill tree is massive. As long as you’re unlocking new moves at a steady pace and making use of new abilities or weapons as they become available, F.I.S.T. can get very complex in its combat. I would even call it satisfying.
As for traversal and level design, it fares slightly worse. Moving, jumping, and dashing don’t feel bad by any means, but there’s just the slightest bit of jank or floatiness throughout that was noticeable to me. Like a dull headache that eventually fades into the background, this feeling was always there, but I started to tolerate it before too long.
The game is fairly linear so I didn’t run into an issue where I felt lost at any point, which I appreciated. The problem here is that 80% of the game is Final Fantasy VIII-style techno-future industrial slum that is tinged either a dreary blue or a sickening green, with only brief moments of respite with some orange or a notable 10 minutes in some mountains. By the time you get to the final section of the game and the sun begins its ascent to provide a breathtaking view of F.I.S.T. 's Midgar-like city, it just felt like too little, too late. And while there’s plenty to experience in the world TiGames created, it also feels SO MUCH like Final Fantasy VII that it was distracting. Less like honorable homage, and more like blatant copying.
I have to hand it to their artists and animators though, for all of its inspiration (or mimicry), the game looks great. They really worked with Unreal Engine 4 to make a believable setting, and all of the materials and even the fur work are fantastic.
Speaking of fur, let’s address the game’s cast.
Initially, I thought the game’s use of animals would win me over. The game opens with a cat lady! The protagonist is a tiny jackrabbit with a giant metal fist strapped to his back! The rabbit’s best friend is a bear! And that’s just the tip of the animal iceberg.
However, F.I.S.T. does something a little curious. It has the humanoid heroes of yore, but it completely bypasses the lighthearted tone that made those games appeal to families. Have you ever seen a rabbit scowl? Because I have. This guy doesn’t know how to make any other kind of face.
The rest of the cast isn’t as dour, but there are only fleeting moments of lightheartedness or silliness throughout the game. For instance, the residents of Torch City are all called Furtizens. I know, hilarious. This tidbit is revealed in the intro as part of a bit between Urso (the bear friend) and Rayton (the jackrabbit protagonist). However, it is also followed by talk of an event called the Big Boom, curfews, weapon searches, and the cruelty of the Machine Legion that has colonized Torch City.
When our hero Rayton gets his mechanized fist backpack and takes matters into his own hands, it doesn’t have the same kind of lighthearted satisfaction as Sly Cooper finding another page of the Thievius Raccoonus or Ratchet & Clank collecting a Golden Bolt. It feels dire, like he was forced into doing this because of the world around him. It’s definitely a more mature version of what I was expecting narratively, but it works in the game’s favor.
A New Hero for a New Age
F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch is not what I was expecting. It’s not the kind of game I grew up playing. This is a game that was made for a new generation with new sensibilities as well as those kids from the early 2000s who have grown up.
Its overall tone trends more toward serious, but it lands and is handled better than some other titles. Rayton doesn’t come across like an edgelord or anything, this isn’t Shadow the Hedgehog. It is, however, a very competent Metroidvania that has some kick-ass action, a huge map, and a story worth seeing to the end.
The game is available on all major platforms including Nintendo Switch, and it is currently included in Game Pass as well.