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F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch Review

What is it about “metroidvanias”, that have made them such an enduring fixture in the indie scene? A large part of the appeal is the sense of discovery and gradual progression from starting with nothing and gaining power over the course of the game.

It certainly helps that games like this tend to be lengthier than the average platformer.  Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the most beloved examples of the genre, where the game length is on par with some shorter RPGs. Other times they can reach the 50 hour mark like Aeterna Noctis.

Being able to play at your own pace is one of the reasons why “metroidvanias” have a lot of perceived value. It also helps if the core mechanics and level design immerse the player in the setting. Even middle kingdom recognize the value of this subgenre. F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is an amalgam of ideas, but how well are they executed?

F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch  
Developer: TiGames
Publisher: Astrolabe Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: July 12, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $29.99 USD 

Rayton is a burned out husk of a soldier. He’s got a thousand yard stare and has cynical view on life. Payton is also an adorable, cuddly rabbit… that also is armed with a large deadly mechanical fist that can change into a drill and whip.

Rayton’s home is Torch City and it is currently occupied by a legion of cyborg dogs. It isn’t long before this rabbit’s bear-buddy is kidnapped and then gets caught up in a conspiracy involving a crime syndicate and a rebellion against the occupying empire.

Rayton will have to get back in gear… or he would if his gear was still in one piece since the war. The power-arm is incomplete and Rayton is going to need a lot more equipment if he hopes to usurp Cicero; his former comrade and current antagonist.

Before going paw-to-paw with ninja frogs, iron dogs and robotic security systems, Rayton will go through a standard battery of “metroidvania” style gameplay conventions. Thankfully, F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch manages to elevate the material.

Rayton’s controls and kinesthetics make him feel surprisingly light on his feet for a little guy with a massive metal fist on his back. He can dash like Mega Man X and can also walk-jump or “wall-skip”, like him too. Scaling walls in this manner is players will negotiate the level design and even when Rayton can double-jump, expect to use all abilities to progress.

Getting an upgrade like the drill is more than adding to Rayton’s combat move-set. A new weapon not only comes with its own skill-tree of new attacks; it also expands the way players will interact with the setting.

Getting the drill does not just give players more ways to mutilate foes- it can open up into a helicopter propeller and grant Rayton gliding ability. The level design flawlessly compliments the range of actions the player can express; often hiding secret HP upgrades to facilitate exploration.

Compounded with Rayton’s dash, players have an extensive range of mobility afforded. With a bit of careful timing and a bold heart, anyone can reach several hard to reach areas early on by scraping for any bit of air-time and forward momentum.

Rayton can do a lot of things, but F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is no Metroid Dread. There several choke points that prevent any sequence breaking; some doors require keys that have be acquired or get opened from story progression.

The story is serviceable and won’t impress. The narrative is mostly held back by a lack of imagination and weak voice performances that have no enthusiasm. Rayton’s performance is weirdly restrained and reserved- often sounding flat or uninterested.

While the voice acting won’t impress, F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch has atmosphere where it counts and looks incredible. This was originally a game designed to run on PlayStation 4 and PC specs and getting it to run on Nintendo Switch hardware has come with the expected compromises.

When docked, F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch has a variable resolution that manages to stay at the target 1080p and 720p in portable. The deft art direction that goes for a post-World War II industrial Shanghai is what carries the game through its rough spots.

On the more powerful consoles, F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch looks unbelievable- and yet it still impresses with the scaled back effects in this Switch conversion. Most notably, many shadows are cut and reflective surfaces no longer behave realistically.

The fur effects are nowhere near as convincing compared to versions running on the more powerful platforms. This is something is regretful since the entire cast is made up of furry animals and the grit and fur adds a lot to the feel of the world and makes it seem like you can almost smell it.

In spite of all the compromises, F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch still looks great. The dank and filthy diesel-punk aesthetic manages to shine brightly. Chinese lettering and propaganda posters that plaster the environment make the world feel lived in and everywhere you look there is signs of wear and tear.

Torch City is like a massive dump and every creature living there is haggard and grimy road-kill. F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch won’t appeal to furries due to the rawness of the imagery. The characters are not anthropomorphized for the sake of some weirdo fetish- they’re animals because they are symbols that serve a higher purpose.

Rayton is a rabbit because traditionally they are associated with luck and peace. The bleak irony is that Rayton is a ex-soldier who must fight due to unlucky circumstances. Urso is Rayton’s bear buddy; a symbol of masculinity, yet his character is oafish and softspoken. Amusingly, the bear could also be interpreted as a symbol for communism.

F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is a Chinese product, so it shouldn’t be surprising if there is any pro-communist ideals steeped into its themes. The inspiration is seemingly inspired by an actual Japanese occupation in Shanghai in the 1930s. This would align the dog imperials in the story with the Japanese.

Game length is a tad longer than the average “metroidvania”, yet it never feels dragged out. The weakest aspect is easily the load times between areas that can wear down patience when backtracking or doing sweeps for missed upgrades.

F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is a very solid “metroidvania”; one that anyone who enjoyed Metroid Dread, would find it worth their time. It is not as perfectly polished as Dread, but it makes up for it with its amazing visuals and setting.

F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Astrolabe Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Visuals and frame rate hold up very well in this Switch port
  • Three-weapon combat system is surprisingly deep and flexible enough for complex combos
  • Fluent level design with plenty of variety to keep platforming, puzzle-solving and battling flowing
  • Gritty Second-Sino Japanese War-inspired diesel-punk art direction meshes nicely with anthropomorphized animals
  • Does not overstay its welcome

The Bad

  • Load times when changing areas can feel long
  • Emotionless, flat voice acting
  • After Metroid Dread, it is not easy to go back to a 30 frames per second 2.5D metroidvania

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A youth destined for damnation.