This is the first of a series of reviews for generally shorter games that one could find for $5 USD or less. If you have a recommendation for a game that fits this category, let us know!
Fist of Awesome is a beat-em-up game about punching sentient bears in the face, while time-traveling at the behest of your talking fist, to put humans back on the top of the food chain. You get to punch cave bears, nude bears, knight bears, and bears that look suspiciously like Boba Fett. This all makes it sound like the game has a lot of variety: however, while it delivers on the classic beat-em-up formula, it doesn’t provide much beyond the very basics.
In the opening scene we find lumberjack Tim Burr celebrating with his family for but a minute, before his happy life disappears around him, leaving fire and a lack of party-goers in its place. As our hero laments this change of fate, his fist speaks to him, telling him that he needs to change time and set things right. The story from here on out consists of running through time portals, making bear puns, and attempting to locate where it all went wrong.
In the meantime, as advertised, you punch every bear you come across. Each level consists of fighting several waves of upright walking mammals, ending with a fight against a larger bear, complete with a much larger health bar. Combat is very simple: you have a basic punch attack, a kick to stun, a backwards kick for when you get surrounded, and a stomp for downed enemies. As a beat-em-up, Fist of Awesome checks the boxes for the majority of elements you would expect in the genre: you can grab a stunned enemy to further pummel or throw them, you have a jump attack to knock enemies down, and you have a “special attack” in the form of charging your punch to increase your range and damage. However, all these elements are very shallow and just serve to meet the basic expectations. This isn’t to say that there is a lack of fun to be had in the game, but it certainly lacks a degree of depth compared to similar titles. The combat does what it needs to, and works well enough to not break immersion, it just lacks the little sparkle that could make it stand out.
Shallow combat is easier to overlook with good enemy variety, and while certainly there were a large number of different looking enemies, there was little besides their health bars that marked them as altering game-play. All the regular enemies shared the same main attacks: the same basic punches and kick as Tim Burr, and there were only two or three different “special attacks.” The end boss for most levels is a large bear, with an area attack after being knocked down, and basic punches besides.
As you finish a level, or die, the experience you have accumulated levels you up, and you have the choice of incrementally improving your speed, power (damage done by basic attacks), special (damage done by special attacks) or health.
The game also has an arena mode, in which the player can pick an arena and a character other than Tim Burr, and survive against wave after wave of enemies. Characters you play in arena mode also gain experience in the same way as in the main story.
While Fist of Awesome delivers on the basics of a beat-em-up, the title feels shallow; in game-play, story, and progression. That being said, I did have a bit of fun while playing. The humor often fell flat, and after an hour or so the combat felt like a grind, but when I first hit the point of making my combat flow, stringing together punishment from one bear to the next, I felt a smile grow on my face. For those of you that have fond memories of retro Beat-em-up games, or are just looking for an mindless way to kill some time, I think the $3.99 USD Steam is charging isn’t a hard price to pay. The game does what it sets out to do, but doesn’t succeed in making me desire to revisit the many timelines and re-skinned enemies that dwell within.