Fights in Tight Spaces is currently available on PC and Xbox One in early access. I conducted this review using the PC version of the game.
You can find a video version of this review here: Fights in Tight Spaces Early Access Review [Rogue-lite Deck Builder] – YouTube
Fights in Tight Spaces is a rogue-lite deck builder centered around unleashing copious amounts of whoop-ass in, you guessed it, Tight and confined spaces. The game features many genre staples such as random encounters, slowly altering your deck while you play, and permadeath.
Aside from its Bruce Wick Bond setting and snazzy minimalistic art style, Fights in Tight Spaces also sets itself apart with a focus on movement and spatial awareness. Tight spaces is more than just a title. To succeed you have to carefully plan out and move around the arena to both, set up and avoid attacks.
Many cards have specific ranges or usages and can also push, pull, or otherwise manipulate the movement of an enemy. Play your cards right, and you can even avoid attacks altogether, or force the bad guys to attack each other. There’s no need to beat off a bunch of dudes with just your own fists, clever play can force the goons to lend you a helping hand instead.
Be Like Water
Fights in Tight Spaces really forces you to rethink how to play a deckbuilding game. You might be the grand champion of Slay the Spire, but step into this ring with that mindset, and the game will break both of your knees.
That’s because it’s not just the numbers on the cards that matter. Yes, blocking and damage are important, but they are pretty useless without proper positioning and space management. You can’t just move freely. Your ability to move is governed by cards, just like your attacks.
Some cards let you step, dash or shift to the side. Others might allow you to swap places with a goon, or step forward and kick someone. Where you end up at the end of each card play, is every bit as important as what the card does.
You can’t take a lot of damage, and healing in the game usually comes at the cost of spending precious currency to do it. Using cards that grant you block can mitigate the damage, but if you can avoid the attack altogether that’s even better. It’s as simple as getting out of your attacker’s range.
The not simple part is you’re usually fighting several thugs in a tight space, many of which have various ranges and abilities. One thug may step forward and kick you, another might trigger as soon as you are in range, and many have guns. The good news is, you can turn all of that around on the baddies.
If you enter an enemy’s range on your turn, they are primed to attack on theirs. Swap places with another goon, and the attack will hit them instead. Thematically speaking, though the game is turn-based, the fight is in real-time inside the game’s universe. Your agent is doing Jason Bourne stuff, moving so quickly the goons can’t stop the attack until it’s too late.
You can even watch a replay of your fight after the fact without any of the pauses. It’s not as smooth as a real fight, but for a turn-based game, it still looks pretty cool.
Kicking a dude into his buddy and stepping out of the way of gunfire so the bullet pops another thug feels incredibly satisfying. The tight spaces really force you to think. Some cards let you use walls to your advantage by jump kicking off of them, or firmly planting someone’s face in them.
Doors and railings are an instant kill if you knock someone into them, though the same also applies to you. The environment is as important to think about as your cards, and you cant just play everything willy-nilly. You generally start with three momentum per turn, and many cards cost at least one.
More than that, you also have a combo meter that increases with every attack. Some attacks actually use the combo meter as its own currency and many others are stronger the higher it is. Any kind of movement lowers your combo by one.
As important as movement is, you must always strike a careful balance between what you need in any given fight. Nothing sucks more than to step in for that killer blow, only to realize you needed a combo meter of three for that spinning kick and now you have two. That big biker you just stepped up to won’t have any sympathy.
Each fight is as mechanically tight as the space it takes place in. A bad move can cost you because the game pulls no punches. If you go down, that’s it, you’re starting over. The fights are so fun, however, that you will want to hop right back in the ring.
Wax on, Wax off
Each run is comprised of 5 distinct layers, each with its own theme and gang of baddies. You will contend with bikers, rowdy prison inmates, and even ninjas. Each faction presents its own style of fighting, bosses, and mini-bosses, and they all require very different strategies. No matter what kind you deck you’re building, you will need to be adaptable.
There are four starter decks. Three of which, you need to unlock. In every fight you win, you get to pick from a random selection of cards. But winning is actually the bare minimum to get by. You have to do more than just beat the bad guys if you are to ever complete a run.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to heal, and if you do, you’re usually forking up some hard-earned money. You do not want to waste money on healing, trust me. You don’t get money for just winning. Each fight will have side objectives that can present you with various rewards. Boosted health, higher combo meters, and money.
This ranges from winning in a set number of turns, reaching a certain combo or, even protecting some poor sap while you fight. Money can be spent on new cards, but more importantly, upgrading your existing ones. Upgrades are massive in Fights in Tight Spaces. Even something as simple as lowering a movement card’s cost to 0 can have a huge impact, allowing you more momentum to spend on attacks.
It’s another strategic factor in a very clever game. That’s a belt that Fights in Tight Spaces should champion proudly. It’s polished to a mirror’s shine and as sharp as steel. Oftentimes early access games just simply feel unfinished, even if they are fun. Sure that’s kind of the point but still. Regardless, that isn’t the case here.
I would have never known that Fights in Tight Spaces was an early access game without being specifically told. There is not a single portion I can point to and say it’s lacking content. It has fully playable runs with varied enemies, stages and objectives with a host of cards to build your deck.
This is the kind of early access game I get super excited about because I’m not waiting on a game to be fixed. It means that throughout its early access phase, I’m getting more stuff on top of what I was already happy with. That’s a massive win in my eyes.
That isn’t to say the game is perfect, it certainly has a couple of bruises. There’s no meta-progression. While you can start on a later gang once you have unlocked them, doing so is severely gimping yourself since you won’t have the cards and upgrades you would have earned by starting from the beginning. The game even warns you of this.
The problem is, that leads you to fighting the first gang, the bikers, a lot. The deckbuilding is also very slow. So once you get a feel for the starter decks, you will be fighting the bikers a ton, but with the same exact cards for at least 20 minutes of each run.
Even though the game has great enemy variety, that’s only the case as you progress. It can get old fighting the same gang with the same starter decks over and over, even if it never once loses its challenge the entire time.
I also believe the balance is slightly off. I definitely found an optimal build strategy, and I won’t spoil it, because it took me hours of playing to figure it out. But once you see it, you can feel like you’re gimping yourself if you build your deck any other way.
Yet, given how strong the game already is entering early access, I would bet on most of my issues being ironed out over time anyway. I had already played for over 10 hours before any complaints surfaced.
Fights in Tight Spaces is a great game, not just a great early access game. The game is deep, satisfying, and has plenty of content and replay value. It’s unique take on the deck building genre is polished and stylish. Making you feel like a martial arts badass just by playing cards is pretty impressive.
It’s one of the best early access games I’ve played, and that’s saying something. To give you a peek behind the curtain, I’ve started including a disclaimer when I request or am offered an early access title to review. The cut and dry is, while I don’t score them, my recommendation is based on its current quality, not its potential. I warn everyone not to send me a key if the developer isn’t confident in that.
Well, Ground Shatter had that confidence, and I can clearly see why. I can easily recommend the game because if they vanished and never updated it again, it’s still a great game worth playing here and now. Though I very much doubt that will be the case, the level of polish clearly shows the dev team’s dedication.
Think hard, play cards, and punch dudes in the face. You can’t ask for more than that.
A copy of Fights in Tight Spaces was provided by Mode 7 via Terminals.io | Terminals for Gideon’s Gaming for the purpose of review.
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- Unique take on the genre with clever movement mechanics
- Martial Arts combat can look pretty cool in a genre that rarely cares about visuals
- Variety of enemies, stages and cards
- Mechanically tight with cohesive gameplay design
- Very polished with a lot of content, hardly feels like early access
- Early fights can get repetitive
- Some balance issues present in deck building