by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
If Superhot, Slay the Spire, and the elevator scene from Captain America: The Winter Solder all melted into a bowl of media fondue, the resulting slurry would look something like Ground Shatter's new strategy card game, Fights in Tight Spaces. This slick title attempts to take some of the twitch chaos away from confined-space combat and instead presents players with a chess-like board that requires planning, forethought, and spatial awareness. While the game occasionally suffers from some of the flaws inherent to pseudo-randomization and deckbuilding, Fights in Tight Spaces is a fantastic game that never fails to make players feel badass.
Despite its unique presentation, Fights in Tight Spaces will actually feel quite familiar to deck-building roguelites like Monster Train or the aforementioned Slay the Spire. Players are dropped into small rooms with enemies, and each turn they draw cards from their deck that determines what actions they can take. These moves are limited by an action point system, and any unused cards are discarded at the end of a turn. Once the draw deck is empty, the discard pile is reshuffled and the cycle continues until the enemies or player are defeated. The starting deck and their granted actions start out relatively simple and straightforward; there are strikes, kicks, a few semi-ranged strikes, and some repositioning shoves. From there, players will acquire new cards and upgrades to customize how their deck works.
Combat is certainly exciting, but the tension never comes from forced time limits or twitch reactions. Each combat area is indeed small, and the constant need to balance multiple enemies with environmental hazards, action points, and spatial positioning really do make the experience more akin to Chess than a traditional action game. Players can always see what enemies will be doing next, so it’s critical to plan at least one step ahead. My preferred playstyle revolved around setting foes up to attack each other and shoving enemies out of the play area, so I flooded my deck with dodges and repositions. However, when I tried going more brawl-y, the game had an entirely different feel. This flexibility changes planning and tactics significantly, and understanding which combat archetypes are available when new cards are available is key to a successful run.
Combat scenarios are all relatively short, which makes Fights in Tight Spaces a fantastic game to pick up now and then for quick bursts of play. I did find myself getting a bit fatigued in longer play sessions, but taking a little break before jumping back in never ceased to reinvigorate my interest. The narrative also supports a come-and-go attitude because there really isn’t much of one. The player assumed the role of an agent tasked with infiltrating various gangs and troublemaking groups, and they must work their way through semi-branching series of rooms to get to a final confrontation. It’s not much more than an excuse to diversity enemies and environments, and that’s all it really needs to be.
Despite a barebones story, the game still has fantastic presentation. The soundtrack hits just right, but it’s the visuals that really tie everything together. Like Superhot, environments are cleanly rendered in pure white, enemies are red, and the player character is black. It’s definitely stylish, but it also suits gameplay. Sure, more detailed environments and character models may have looked nice, but it’s quite nice to be able to easily identify all enemies and spaces with a quick glance. Different classes of opponents have distinct silhouettes, and I never felt confused about what was going on with the surroundings.
That being said, there are a few frustrations to be found that are common with most games in this genre. Most notably, it’s only a matter of time before a promising run is ended because of a few bad draws. While deck consistency can be improved greatly via deckbuilding as more cards are unlocked, it’s always possible to pull the wrong cards one or two turns in a row and end up finished. Unlocking cards is also both a curse and a blessing. It’s largely mandatory for a game like this, but the randomization of card rewards can also turn a run into a dud. While players can always choose not to take any of the available cards in any given reward situation, taking one or two cards to support one playstyle and then not getting synergistic cards after is a bit of a no-win situation. These frustrations are minor, though, and they’re largely part of the genre’s charm.
We’re only a week into 2022, but I’m extremely happy to be starting my year off with a game as fun and well put together as Fights in Tight Spaces. Though it occasionally feels like a bit of a grind, the focused gameplay and pleasing visual style make this a great game for players to come back to over and over.
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Deeply tactical gameplay, sharp visuals, fun deckbuilding
It occasionally feels grindy to get a solid deck and randomization can sometimes ruin a run.