When Fights in Tight Spaces was announced nearly a year ago, I remember my excitement at seeing the presentation. The silhouette art style and the confined fight arenas reminded me heavily of the opening of my favorite James Bond film, Casino Royale, and I was ecstatic. Now the game is in Early Access, and I’m pretty addicted to it. Mode 7’s combination of a deck-building card game with roguelite features is a winning formula in this presentation. While it’s not perfect, there’s definitely a lot to appreciate here.
The game puts you in the role of Agent 11, an operative for Section 11 as you go undercover to take on different criminals. This includes biker gangs, prisoners, ninjas, mafia, and more. Once you pick your deck of cards, each representing a different attack of move, you’re off to training to get the basics. It’s far from simple, but fans of games like Slay the Spire or A Long Way Down will likely pick it up quickly. You’ll start out with a basic “balanced” deck and unlock more as you progress through the game. Of course, the main goal is to improve your deck through progression. This not only includes gaining new cards, but also upgrading your current cards to make them more powerful. From there, you’ll select your fight on a randomly generated branching path, giving various different routes in a run.
Once you’re actually in a fight, your movement options will usually be limited. You’ll often find yourself in bathrooms, kitchens, doctors offices, stairwells and even the back of a van. It’s only natural that my first fight takes place in a bathroom, much like the scene in Casino Royale, or even a fight in Mission Impossible: Fallout. It’s in these references that Fights in Tight Spaces gets even more charming. Some of the cards make direct reference to certain iconic moments, including Henry Cavill’s infamous arm-reload or Dale Gribble’s “pocket sand” from King of the Hill. Others are just cool tactical maneuvers to get you out of a tight jam. And trust us, there will be plenty of tight jams. Fights in Tight Spaces is a challenging game that’s not to be taken lightly.
You’ll take turns against your opponents, drawing a hand of cards for all your moves. Each card has a momentum requirement to play and some even require a combo to build up. Movement cards cost you combo meter per space you move while some cards won’t cost a thing. Not only will you have to make smart use of your momentum, but you’ll also have to use your foes against each other. Your enemies will have an area of attack that often goes uninterrupted, even when facing their own allies. Using this to your advantage not only helps to make the fight easier, but also helps with fulfilling certain bonus conditions. This often includes beating the stage in a set number of turns, or even having enemies defeat a certain number of their own forces.
It’s really a smart game that uses tactical foresight really well. If you’re not paying attention to all the factors around you, you can easily get taken out. While the game often throws curve balls at you, it’s rarely ever unfair. The only thing that can make a situation unwinnable is your own performance, as your stamina carries over between fights. If you sustain an injury card or get too hurt, you’ll have a hard time in your next battle. Thankfully, there’s medical centers and gyms that can help to fix you right up. Events will often come up too, giving a chance moment to get a bonus (or a penalty). You have to be careful though, as sometimes the risk is unavoidable. Things you’ll be risking include your health, money, cards, and you can even get thrown into a fight if you’re not careful.
Some of the fights mix things up a bit, like when you have to protect an ambassador or informant. Ambassadors are defenseless civilians that you have to keep safe to fulfill a bonus condition. The good news is you can attack ambassadors without dealing damage, allowing you to position them somewhere safe. As for the bad news, they’re just another target for your enemies to attack. With informants, it’s a bit easier, as they try to blend in with your enemies. You know they’re on your side, but they will attack you anyway to make it look convincing. It’s not nearly as difficult as protecting the ambassador, but it still adds variety to some of the fights.
This being a card game, the only downside is that the action can be a little slow. Thankfully, you can show the replay of an entire fight with dynamic camera angles and without the downtime. It’s almost like choreographing your own fight scene in a movie, though it would be great to have a bit more control. Honestly, it would be an improvement just to be able to back out of the replay before it finishes. Either way, the replays do make the fights more exciting, even if some movements can be a little unnatural. While a lot of the attacks move fluidly and naturally, movement often feels a bit stiff and has Agent 11 move like a robot.
When it comes to presentation, the game keeps things pretty minimal. There aren’t any voices, as all communication takes place using text. There’s really only two characters, so not much dialogue even takes place except for between scenarios. Events typically show a couple of static images: one for the choices, another for the result of your choice. The music is also pretty simple, applying catchy but subdued rhythms to the action. It’s pretty clear that most of the attention went to the art style, which is the most inviting aspect of the game. The graphics maintain a vibrancy to them that calls back to titles like Superhot or even MadWorld, and the blood helps to enhance the violent nature of these close-quarters fights.
Being that this is Early Access, the developers are still working on things. They plan to include even more enemy and boss types, and even add what appears to be another deck. Right now, Fights in Tight Spaces has four starting decks that you build over time. There’s five scenarios to play, and the game heavily encourages starting from the beginning to gain upgrades. I continue to gain progress with each of my runs, improving more and more with each new encounter. I’ve yet to reach the end, but I continue to play with the hopes that I can achieve my goal.
With a ton of polish, a fitting art style, and plenty of pop culture references from the sources that inspire it, Fights in Tight Spaces is one rousing experience. This is the kind of game that’s going to be up your alley if you’re a fan of strategy with intense action. It can take a bit of study and thought, but all good strategy games do. The Early Access release also helps to improve the game with fan feedback, so we expect to see slight changes here and there. Overall, this is one fight we’re going to enjoy jumping into for hours on end.
Early Access Score: 9 out of 10
Early Access Scores don’t represent the final score of the game, as things are subject to change. We will provide an official final score once the game launches. This score simply stands for the current experience.
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