As a child, I grew up playing a lot of Nintendo and Super Nintendo beat ’em up and brawler games like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games and Bad Dudes. Back then, beat ’em ups and platformers were my two favorite video game genres. I don’t really play beat ’em ups too often anymore, partly because of a lack of them until the indie game scene became big and also because they aren’t exactly the toughest or most strategic games out there. I play beat ’em up games more as quick, fun diversions rather than for the amazing game experiences other genres offer.
While it is no longer one of my favorite genres, I do still play the occasional beat ’em up game. For example, Fist of Awesome, a 2013 indie mobile game (it was also released on Steam in 2014, which is the version I played and am reviewing) that attempts to recreate some of those classic NES games. While it is decent for a mobile game ported to the PC, it fails in too many ways to get a recommendation (except for huge fans of beat ’em ups).
Fist of Awesome tells the tale of Tim Burr (what a terrible pun), a time-traveling lumberjack that must save humans from a group of homicidal animals (particularly bears) that managed to change history and take over the world. The game allows you to punch bears in the face but that is basically all you do. I must admit that punching bears in the face is oddly satisfying but don’t rush out and buy the game before you finish this review because there are plenty of negatives about the game as well.
First of all, like most beat ’em ups you basically just have to keep pushing one or two buttons over and over again. You don’t even have to worry about learning button combos because if you just keep upgrading your normal punches and kicks they do as much or more damage than the combos do. Simply hold the punch button to perform a “super punch,” punch the bear in the face a couple times, and move on to the next bear. That’s all there is to the game. You usually don’t even have to move unless the bears catch you in a trap from both directions.
The game tries desperately to be funny but even though absurd situations and humor usually makes me laugh, I laughed a grand total of once while playing Fist of Awesome. Most of the humor just isn’t that funny, mostly consisting of bad puns, references, and way too obvious jokes. This is disappointing, since in a game about punching bears it is an absolute necessity to make it funny. The fact that it isn’t one bit funny is quite disappointing.
In addition, Fist of Awesome’s story is pretty poor. If the game was really good this wouldn’t be a problem since even a crazy throwaway story would have been good enough. The characters are stale and boring and you don’t even get to see or learn about the villain until the very end of the game (just the last half of the last mission). I was so bored by the story that I could barely even pay attention to it.
The game is also very short (I easily beat it in under two hours) and way too easy (I died a grand total of twice and both times I just got trapped by enemies who kept hitting me until I died). While this is understandable for a beat ’em up game (they rarely last much longer than that) and the game only costs $3.99 at retail price, a few more levels and more story development would have been nice. The game does offer two harder modes that you unlock after you beat the game but since I didn’t really enjoy my first playthrough, I wasn’t going to test the harder difficulties. I imagine they do a good job of increasing the difficulty though.
“Fist of Awesome” does offer a little more bang for your buck with the addition of the “arena.” The arena is actually funner than the main game. In arena mode, you are given a certain amount of time to complete certain tasks. For example, the game might task you with performing a combo of a certain amount or ask you to finish four enemies with a stomp. You are given three tasks at a time to attempt to complete and each time you finish one, time is added to the clock and a new task is added to the list.
Arena mode is by far the best part of Fist of Awesome, even if some of the tasks are a little unbalanced (achieving combos and kicking a certain amount of bears in the nuts are easy to complete while finishing enemies off with a certain type of move can sometimes be quite difficult). It’s a fresh take on the beat ’em up genre and even a little addicting. I actually wish the developer would have just abandoned the story mode to spend more time on the arenas (a few additional types of tasks would be nice).
Fist of Awesome uses a pixel graphics art style. In terms of the quality of the graphics, I agree with the developer’s assessment on their Steam page (“Okay-ish pixel graphics”). The graphical assets themselves are fine, you can easily tell what everything you are looking at is (even though the bears sometimes look more like deer to me) and there are quite a few different bear types. For some reason, making pixel art characters so tall makes them look a bit stretched out and kind of a little off. I’m not sure why but the main character and the enemies just looked a little odd to me.
The game uses purposely (I’m assuming at least) over-the-top and poor quality voice acting and sound effects which are kind of funny at first but get annoying very quickly. You will most likely have one special move that you use often and the character says the same thing every time the move is used. The soundtrack is actually one of the highlights of Fist of Awesome. Most of the songs are pretty good chiptunes but the song played while the credits roll (“Fist of Awesome”) deserves a special shout out. It is both funny and extremely catchy. I’ve listened to it probably at least 20 times already and have it in my Spotify playlist.
Overall, Fist of Awesome is a below average beat ’em up with pretty boring gameplay (you just push one button over and over again, a beat ’em up today should at least have some different mechanics), average pixel art, and a lack of humor (even though the game tries). The arena mode is quite a bit of fun but other than that the game is just plain boring. If you get it in a bundle and like beat ’em up games, it is probably worth a try (mainly for the arena mode) but I definitely wouldn’t pay full price.