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Image credit: Glass Bottom Games

‘Spartan Fist’ is a first-person brawler with blocky cartoon violence

It looks a tiny bit like 'Minecraft,' but it's nothing like 'Minecraft'...
Rob LeFebvre, @roblef
05.11.18 in AV
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Glass Bottom Games

The world of good first-person indie games is a small one, and beat-em-ups are similarly scarce. Spartan Fist, then may be the brightly-colored first-person puncher you've been waiting for. Glass Bottom Games' third major game stars detective Emma Jones, the protagonist from the company's first two titles (Jones on Fire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), as the current owner of the titular fists.

Continuing the detective's story just made sense to Megan Fox, developer and creative force behind Glass Bottom Games, since she needed someone to fill the role of head face-puncher in charge. "Emma Jones and Franky [her cat] rock, and their story ends here," she said. "Or begins. It all gets a bit timey-wimey at the end. Besides, Hot Tin Roof ended with them basically being canned from their jobs, and they have rent to pay!"

The game, set to launch on May 15th on Steam for Mac, PC and Linux, is full of punching, sure, but it has a tale to tell, too. "The story is told in the margins," said Fox. "If you just want to punch dudes so hard they explode, you can; the story stays out of your way. You have to go digging for it if you want to work out what's actually happening."

She says Spartan Fist is a bit like Dark Souls in this way. "We wrote a full story, but most of that comes through in setting and mood," she said. The details of the story are conveyed via text in various locations, like tutorials (that you can totally skip), descriptions on Steam items like cards or emoticons and in loading screens.

The arena you fight in is called The Gauntlet, and you're never quite sure why it exists in the first place. "Suffice it to say, the Gauntlet isn't what it purports to be, you aren't quite who you think you are and nobody seems to die for good," Fox said. All of this happens despite the fact that you're trying really hard to kill everyone you meet.

Each procedurally-generated killing field is reset each time you spawn, composed in a cartoony, voxel style. What's a voxel? Basically, they're three-dimensional pixels that allow for the colorful explosion effects in Spartan Fist. Minecraft uses them, too, though they're much larger in that game.

The vibrant colors and whimsical models were a conscious choice. "We started by working from stuff like Tank Girl (both the comic and the live-action Lori Peti movie)," Fox said. That gave the team the idea to make Spartan Fist vibrant and colorful, giving artist Zach Soares a style to use for the game.

The idea to create a fist-powered first-person punching game was just as intentional. "First-person punchers aren't a new thing -- there's Zeno Clash and a few others like Paint The Town Red -- but the genre is basically abandoned," said Fox. "That seemed lame" and it was why the team focused the game so tightly, to see what would happen in a title focused solely on punching.

Gameplay includes seven different types of "fists" to find and equip, including the rock fist, bandage fist and kitty fist, each offering different abilities. You can also find various "dips" to place your fists into, like fire, blood and caramel, which add fire damage, healing, or enemy-slowing buffs, respectively.

Your goal is to punch enemies in the face so hard that they explode, using one of three different "stances" -- brawler, duelist and updraft. The brawler stance hits many enemies at once, while the duelist stance adds a bit more range to your punches. These stances, combined with the fists, give you tons of ways to play and experiment.

While it may seem like a lot to track and control, Spartan Fist is pretty intuitive to play. So far, it's a single-player affair; you run around in the arena, punching bad guys and searching for upgrades. Switching between stances becomes second nature after a few deaths, and searching the arena for new fists and dips is a key component of staying alive, while offering a chance to see all the gorgeous voxel art and environments. "The idea was [to see] what happens if we [did] high-res voxels that look like pixel art at a distance, but since it's first person, you can go over and rub your face up against [it]. I hadn't seen anyone quite try that before. Because no, Minecraft doesn't count," she quipped.

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