F.I.S.T: Forged In Shadow Torch Review – Review
Forged in the shadow of Metroid.
Metroid’s 2D return on Switch with Metroid Dread in 2021 was the first time we saw a brand new entry in that franchise during what’s become a heyday of indie Metroidvanias. Around the time of Dread’s launch, I heard about a game called F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch that had already come out on PlayStation and PC. The buzz suggested that F.I.S.T. was as good as–if not better than– Samus Aran’s latest outing, so when that game made its way to Nintendo Switch, I was curious to see how it stacked up. While F.I.S.T. doesn’t hit the highs of Metroid Dread, it’s a fantastic addition to the Metroidvania genre that excels in a number of ways but is hindered by a handful of nagging issues.
F.I.S.T. features a lot of exploration but primarily presents a straightforward progression to its story. You star as Rayton, an anthropomorphic rabbit war veteran who is called out of retirement when his fellow furtizens are oppressed by a legion of robots. The voice acting is good and while the attempt at weaving a compelling narrative is totally fine, the plot machinations largely serve as window dressing, which is ideal for this kind of game. I was driven forward mostly to see what new challenges the gameplay would present as opposed to seeing what happens next to Rayton and his friends. The visuals have that Unreal Engine shine to it, which looks fine in motion but the dieselpunk aesthetic rarely excels beyond dark and moody. Technically, it runs serviceably on Switch. Load times between areas can take some time, but once I got into the action, I didn’t run into any noticeable issues.
The gameplay is centered around three weapons: the titular fist, a drill, and a whip. You only start with one, but once you get all three, the game truly shines. Combat is a combo-heavy affair that demands near perfection on the normal difficulty setting. The skill trees that unleash the combos and unique abilities of each weapon provide you a lot of options to use in combat, but the onslaught of kill rooms and powerful regular enemies seem to encourage you to play defense more often than offense. Most of my frustration came from the handful of absurd difficulty spikes, usually related to a boss battle with a surprise second phase or a seemingly endless wave of enemies. When the combat isn’t kicking your ass, though, it’s really cool. By the back half of the game, I found myself kicking the difficulty down to easy whenever I’d hit a brick wall. It was a clumsy solution, but it alleviated annoyance and I appreciate that the two difficulty settings are present and toggle-able.
Outside of combat, the three weapons are also used for exploration and puzzle solving. The fist can be used to grab items to move them around, the drill is instrumental in underwater escapades, and the whip doubles as a grapple. Outside of mobility upgrades, all of your power-ups spin out of these core weapons. It’s novel to use the drill as a hover as well as a tool of destruction. Exploring with these items can be a lot of fun, especially as you mix them together to dart around platforming challenges.
Following the path the story takes you highlights how intertwined the world is, affording ample opportunity to poke around areas for secrets, which are fun to find and in case you do miss anything, it’s easy to glance at the map to see what you missed. Unfortunately, exploring takes a hit when you’re going for 100% completion. The world is huge, but a clumsy fast travel system and large, boring open spaces make moving around it for specific items a slog. Roaming the world for items in the late game seemed more like a chore than it does in similar games. While I enjoyed traipsing through these areas initially and sometimes on a return trip, the constant re-traversal eventually wore me out.
If you can handle the slower maneuverability, there are a lot of items to collect, though like many Metroidvanias, it reaches a point of diminishing returns. Enemies and various items drop money that can be used to buy items and unlock weapon upgrades, but after the first few hours, the game’s economy seemed to go pear-shaped and I had way more money than I knew what to do with. There are a handful of excellent secrets that are nestled just a little bit too deeply for their own good. The map is generally user friendly, but the fact that every area of the game displays at once on your map can make it overwhelming to make sense of where to go and what to do when you’re seeking out specific items.
Even in the face of some of these issues, though, F.I.S.T. endures because in the moment-to-moment gameplay, it’s incredible as long as you’re not getting your butt kicked in combat kill rooms. Refinement along the troublesome fringes would take a good game and make it fantastic, but even still, F.I.S.T. is a fun ride. Contrary to the aforementioned buzz, though, truth be told, it isn’t quite at the same level of Metroid Dread (but what is?). This team is clearly onto something, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their next effort in this space gives Samus a real run for her money.