Meet Interesting People And Punch Them Really Hard

HIGH Kicking ninjas off of a moving subway car.

LOW Getting the crap kicked out of me because I drew a lousy hand.

WTF  Why do I have such terrible luck?


OK, I’m putting my cards on the table here —  I haven’t been a big fan of deckbuilding titles, based purely on personal reasons. Specifically, my D&D dice rolls are legendarily poor and my inability to draw useful cards in any given situation is almost as bad.  Fights in Tight Spaces may not have caused me to turn a corner for card-based titles, but despite my usual luck, I had a great time living out action-hero fantasies with this one. 

Fights in Tight Spaces wastes almost no time with plot.  Players take on the role of Agent 11 from Section Eleven. He’s   called in when criminal matters need a personal touch, such as a kick to the throat.  Aside from some witty Bond-esque dialog between the player and their handler between missions, story is not the driving force here, so FITS gets right down to its messy business.

Before setting off to battle hordes of ne’er-do-wells, the player must prepare a deck of cards representing movement, defense (blocks/dodges), and attacks.  There are six pre-built decks designed to fit specific playstyles, such as an Aggressive deck that focuses heavily on strikes, or a Counter Striker deck that relies on skillful counters and blocks.  Players start with a Balanced deck, and unlock the remaining five as the game progresses.  Additionally, players can construct customized decks from up to 200 different cards, most of which are earned as players advance through the game, win or lose.

After selecting or building a deck, it’s time to fight.  The player follows a limited branching pathway through a set of missions on a map, allowing for some choice in the type of encounter that will come next, and these encounters take place on an isometric “board” representing various locations such as barrooms, lavatories, prison cells — these are the eponymous tight spaces. 

Players choose cards to move about the board, attack enemies, or defend against incoming attacks, continuing to move/attack/defend until they’ve run out of cards, or a resource called “momentum” – -it’s similar to movement points in most RPGs.  By successfully landing attacks, the player builds up a combo meter which allows more powerful cards to be used, should they be in the player’s hand. Basic gameplay sounds much more complicated in this review than it really is, and a useful tutorial covers the basics well enough to make anyone feel at home with the mechanics. 

Enemy movements and attacks are completely transparent and telegraphed, meaning someone will know exactly what the AI is planning to do on its turn. This allows players to plan and use the AI’s own attacks against it, such as pushing an enemy into incoming gunfire or moving out of range of an incoming punch. Additionally, players are able to take advantage of their surroundings to quickly turn the tide in their favor.  Certain parts of many areas are “out of bounds,” such as guardrails and doorways.  If an enemy is pushed or knocked back into these obstacles, it counts as an instant kill — always satisfying to pull off.

Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between knowing what an enemy is going to do and being able to do something about it, and that’s where Fights in Tight Spaces stumbles a bit. 

I often find myself in situations I can’t handle, with movement cards that won’t get me out of a scrap I can’t win or defensive cards that don’t absorb all the punishment I’ll be taking when my turn ends.  It’s awesome to be able to knock a dude over a railing, but it’s frustrating when I frequently can’t move into position to capitalize. 

Enemies are smart enough to get out of harm’s way even on the lowest difficulty, and they always seem to be able to block me effectively.  I know the idea is that as I play more I’ll have access to more powerful cards and decks, but the frustration of not being able to do the cool stuff I would like to can be off-putting.  That said, FITS is so slickly presented and the overall fighting is so satisfying that I keep getting sucked into just one more round and the devs are pretty generous with rewards, so there’s always a feeling of some progression, even as I’m getting the daylights pounded out of me.

Fights in Tight Spaces will not be for everyone as it demands patience and expects players to fail early and often.  However, it has charm to spare, the fights are satisfyingly visceral, and it’s quick to pick up and play… although difficult to master. 

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Ground Shatter and published by Mode 7 Games and bithell.It is currently available on XBO, XBX, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Violence. The game features realistic depictions of extreme violence against stylized human enemies.  There is frequent blood spray, especially after more devastating attacks (such as slamming an opponent’s head into a wall). Enemies frequently carry realistic weapons such as guns, knives, or bats.  Some use more exotic weapons such as acetylene torches.  Bodies slump in a hyper-realistic ragdoll manner when enemies are killed. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized.The game uses text for all dialogue.  All audio cues are matched by a visual component.  Enemy arrival is marked by an arrow onscreen, so there are no surprises.  This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but left click selects cards and movement locations.  Right click cancels a selection or toggles between board movement and card selection.  Q and E rotate the view left and right.  Alt (or clicking on the board icon) shows enemy info and Enter (or clicking on the icon) ends a turn. If using a controller, the left stick controls movement of the cursor and A confirms a selection.  B cancels a selection or toggles between board movement and card selection.  LB and RB rotate the view left and right.  X shows enemy info and Yends a turn.

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