The most important part of any roguelike is replayability. The genre’s inherent difficulty means that players will be seeing early levels over and over. This means that variety in rooms layouts, weapon drops, and enemy types is absolutely crucial to success. People come to these games for the unexpected, and any trace of repetition will turn them towards any number of alternate procedural dungeons. Knowing this, it’s always a shame when a game like Spartan Fist comes along. For all its stellar presentation and hints of promise, this is a genre contender that won’t last past the first round.
Spartan Fist continues the adventures of Jones and Franky that weave through all of Glass Bottom Games’ releases. The duo drop into a gladiatorial arena filled with mohawked punk rockers. Lacking any other weapons, you take up your bare fists and punch your way through room after room. The hook is that this is a first-person game, and it really leans into that. Every swing of your fists feels powerful, with your character staggering after a miss and leaping forward for a combo. The camera locks you into one on one battles and effortlessly transitions you between goons. This all feels kinetic and energetic in the best way.
If Spartan Fist were a straight up boxing game, these mechanics would carry the entire experience. However, this is a roguelike, complete with deathtraps and swarms of foes. The same kinetic movement that makes your punches feel so strong can push you into hazards for unavoidable damage. The automatic camera lock and dial-a-combos that define the game’s combat also make you feel like a spectator rather than a contender. Seemingly as a result of this lack of control, the audience at the arena throws health pickups at you constantly. You can go from barely scratching by to a full health boost if you just scrounge around, which can make the march to the boss feel effortless.
This style over substance combat could work in Spartan Fist‘s favor, but only if the arenas are worth exploring. Unfortunately, this is where it fails the most. Rooms are procedurally generated for sure, but the elements that the engine draws from are limited. Each floor has around three enemy types, along with a few traps, a few bits of decoration, and a single boss. No matter how many ways you arrange these elements, they’re going to grow stale in a hurry. Additionally, there are no keys or bombs, and no pickups to replace these things. Every room is a combat arena, with no variation and no apparent secrets to discover. You’ll occasionally get a run where the boss door spawns right outside the starting room. In another game, this might have felt cheap and unrewarding. Here, I just felt relieved that I could skip some of the tedious battles.
This isn’t to say that all of the combat is unenjoyable. The game’s collection of different fists all feel unique, and I saw opportunities pop up to take advantage of that. The Stone Fist let me knock enemies into wall traps, and the Feather Fist’s special move is a leaping uppercut that was consistently a hoot. However, while it’s fun to try out each move and find its strengths and weaknesses, it’s really not necessary. Spartan Fist‘s combat can be conquered via button mashing. Sure, various moves can be done via different stances, and alternating fists change your combos up, but jamming on any punch button works just as well as measured strikes in most cases.
Not only is combat shallow, but it’s also very repetitive. There are less than ten fists you can find. Each of these is improvable via shop upgrades and a handful of elemental “dips.” However, all these enhancements feel like incremental stat boosts. Not that you’ll need them since the abundant health drops mean that you can afford a few mistakes. The only thing that really changes is your surroundings, but changing out one palate for another won’t keep you hooked. Your first hour of Spartan Fist will play very similarly to your tenth hour, and that’s a real problem for a run-based game.
Spartan Fist has a wonderful presentation with destructible environments and a catchy soundtrack. The tips between levels and the other bits of writing are clever. The options menu is fully stocked, making the game accessible to a wide range of players. Making dudes explode via a bare fist is inherently enjoyable. However, even with all of this in its favor, the repetitive and unsatisfying loop at the core of the experience is a death knell. This is a scattered roguelike experience that will make you want to punch out after your first few sessions.
Our Spartan Fist review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.
Spartan Fist is all sizzle and no steak. It looks the part, and your initial fisticuffs are invigorating. However, that fun is fleeting thanks to the gameplay's repetitive nature and sloppy execution.
- Frenetic Combat
- Jazzy Presentation
- Voxel Folks Exploding
- Repetitive Battles
- Broken Roguelike Structure
- Lack of Items and Secrets