Fist things fist.
Game tutorials can be boring. Ham-fisted, slowed down exercises in patience where’re you’re taught things you already know in ways that almost put you to sleep. So when I booted up Unstoppable Fist and was told, “Each side is divided into three touch zones. Destroy the Mionions of Darkness with quick reflexes and a mullet,” I knew I was in for something special.
Unstoppable Fist is a child of the late 80s and early 90s arcade gaming scene. A child made in equal measure of pure, undiluted fun and frustration. The kind of game where the ridiculous setup only belies cutthroat expectations; where high scores are hard fought and displayed on a score board; where no other achievement is as important as being at the top of that scoreboard.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where was I? Oh yes, the ridiculous setup. You play as an unnamed, aviator-clad, mullet-sporting muscle man hurled towards earth in a blaze of glory (and, you know, fire) to fight off evils like scorpions, zombie heads, jellyfish, and spare tires with only your brains. Who are you kidding? With your fists and feet of fury. I know it might sound a little crazy, but believe me, this game is like religion: the less you question it, the more sense it makes.
Play takes the form of your basic six-front war, with enemies of varying speed attacking from the top, middle, and bottom of both the left and right side of the screen. Some enemies trade speed for strength, and vice versa, leaving you to destroy the onslaught strategically by ensuring you can deal with each baddy before it reaches you and diminishes your precious health bar. As with many iOS games, wreaking havoc is just a touch away. Tapping each zone launches an attack into it, tapping two at once executes a double punch or kick, and swiping up or down delivers a powerful vertical strike that slows you down.
Enter that part about cuthroat expectations. Unstoppable Fist should more appropriately be called Unstoppable Enemies You Sort of Kind of Maybe Keep at Bay with your Fist. Think of the game as a really violent session of Simon. Not only do you need to learn and memorize the patterns of enemy movement and wayward item pathways, but you’re charged with deciding the best order in which to attack, when to execute your powerful strikes, and how to chain for high scores – all on the fly at a rapidly increasing speed.
The moral of the story is that you will die. A lot. But with a replay just a click a way, and menus laid out to prioritize extreme simplicity, Unstoppable Fist is all about the gameplay. And it’s here that I quickly found myself unable to stop (bonus points for unintentional wordplay there). Like whack-a-mole, the challenge here proves so instantly accessible and – in a way – primordial for anyone who’s ever played any type of game. The gauntlet being thrown is “can you react to me faster than I’m asking you to react?” and the answer is almost always going to be “watch me!” The game has a wonderful way of making your failures rest in that middle ground where you’re blaming neither the game nor yourself, but are instead looking to prove it to both parties that you’re better than that.
The proceedings are of course helped along by wonderful pixel art that tickles the nostalgic recesses of your brain, over-the-top sound and animation that really makes you feel like you can explode things with your (virtual) fist, and suitably hilarious power-ballad instrumentals to keep the energy constantly cranked to 11. The game refuses to take itself seriously in all the right places, opting instead to deliver where it counts.
Further to Ragtag Studios’ credit is the way they’ve drawn the line at the 0.99 cent purchase of the game. Each of the two extra stages outside of the game’s opening “bayou” setting is unlocked by virtue of how much time you spend playing – something I accomplished inside of my first 25 matches. Or at least I think… you’ll almost definitely lose count right away. There’s no picking this up and just playing one round. In any case, the result is a realization of the arcade mentality iOS games often try to capture. Unfettered fun minus the bag of eaten quarters.
Perhaps the only significant roadblock to perfect here is the nagging feeling as you play more and more (and on harder modes especially) that design flaws are to blame for some unfortunate deaths. There are times where the enemies sent at you can’t possibly be cleared off in the right order or at the right speed, leaving you to destroy a heavy hitter knowing you’ll take the damage of a speedy enemy incoming, or vice versa. In a perverse way I learned to embrace the “unfairness” as part of the game’s arcade charm, but more casual players will certainly find these balancing issues to be small slaps in the face.
Other than that? My only complaint is a compliment. I want a full length adventure next. Having had a small taste of fist, all I want is more fist in my face. Wait. That didn’t come out right. Oh well! If you’re listening Rag Tag, consider this a spectacular starting point for an unstoppable platformer. You’ve got at least one buyer. That’s enough to make app developers rich, right?