In an age where most console games take themselves far too seriously in an attempt to prove that games can be mature, adult, artful entertainment, while still letting you blast aliens and stab people, sometimes you just want to revel in absurdity and good natured fun, and maybe, just maybe, punch hyper evolved bears in the face with a massive flaming fist. Fist of Awesome from I Fight Bears is retro in both art style and sensibilities, and is one of the most purely fun mobile titles I’ve played in a while.
The story is part Planet of the Apes and part Back to the Future, as you embark to retake the earth from sentient, humanoid bears that have enslaved all of humanity. You are savior of mankind and lumberjack Tim Burr, and after this strange rift in space time, you find you’ve been possessed by a massive, sentient, talking fist, which can take control of Tim’s central nervous system. Now it’s time to save the day, Streets of Rage and Final Fight style: With good, old fashioned, violence.
The story is full of references to both classic brawler games and movies alike, with a sense of humor rife with a certain level of lewdness and adult, yet hyper pixilated, content. I find this game somewhat objectionable simply because I'm part bear myself, and feel misrepresented. The writing is surprisingly funny, and this game just runs with the silliness of it all as you pummel your way through different eras of time. But this being a side-scrolling beat em’ up, you probably want to know about the fisticuffs. Gameplay brings a shocking amount of depth to the table, using a gesture based system that is actually pretty intuitive and easy to adapt to. You tap away to punch, swipe to kick, hold to use specials, and can also swipe to stomp a mud hole in downed enemies, or jump. Kicks are placed squarely in a bears bare ball area, and lead to a stun, which you can combo into a grab and throw.
Despite all the combat options available though, you’ll quickly find that the best strategy is just to kite enemies so that they’re all behind you, about face, and tap, tap, tap away at the gaggle of grizzlies following your lead. You could mix in other moves in an attempt to keep things interesting, but it doesn’t feel necessary, and the standard combo is best for racking up a high combo meter and score. Enemies come in small variety, at least mechanics wise. They’ll occasionally throw out an unblockable flurry attack, like a spin or arm flail, but it’s clearly telegraphed and easy to interrupt. Bosses are a bit more challenging, with big attacks that hit as they stand up from a knock down, though they hurt their own lackeys more often than they’ll hurt you if you’re smart.
While the gameplay was repetitive, overall the game was still super fun. The visual variety of the locations and the great jokes and references sprinkled throughout out keep you coming back for more. The last couple areas are extremely drawn out, as you endlessly pummel enemies that offer no new challenge aside from their longer health bars, and they were a bit tedious. The leveling system allows you to upgrade health, strength, speed, and special attack power, and even with my strength near the max, it still dragged on. You can replay the campaign on higher difficulties when finished, or you can mess around in the arena mode, which lets you play as pretty much every enemy or boss while tackling rotating mission objectives, ala Jetpack Joyride and others. Playing as lumbering boss bears is a neat change of pace, and each individual character comes with his own levels and stats for you to grow.
The charm in this game lies not in its retro goodness. It’s honestly, and I mean this in the best way, in how cheap it seems. The graphics are reminiscent of McPixel, though more detailed, meticulous, and varied. The backgrounds sometimes look awkward, and other times look brilliant. It’s kind of bizarre. Also, a large chunk of the sound effects in this game were clearly made with human mouths and voices, including the punching noises. But it all works. It all works beautifully. You may find it repetitive or tedious, but with a wholly unique retro design, a freaking awesome theme song, and a main villain that kind of looks like Louis C.K., it’s still worth playing. This Fist of Awesome can be yours for four dollars, with nary an in-app purchase in sight.