03/07/2022

The video game sphere has rapidly been filling up with card battlers, but it’s rare that one tackles a totally unique idea and executes it so well. Imagine taking a deck of cards and using it to choreograph a fight scene. That’s the basic idea of Fights in Tight Spaces, from the teams at Ground Shatter and Mode 7, and this game rides its premise into becoming one of the best roguelikes of the year.

Come at me

Fights in Tight Spaces is centered around a simple idea. Players take the role of a secret agent, tasked with taking down a variety of bad guys. They use nothing but their brawn, their tactical wit, and their unparalleled conditioning. As the person behind the secret agent, the idea is play whatever cards are in-hand to string together attacks, defeat enemies, and make sure the turn ends without being in immediate danger.

The card system sounds complex in its explanation, but the actual practice of stringing together attacks proves to be extremely simple. Players must manage their Momentum (the game’s equivalent to Mana) and create move combinations based on what’s available. This can be as simple as a Front Kick, as complex as a Double Jump Kick, or more in the realm of gadgetry, like a Stun Dart. If a player builds their combo meter, this allows them to use more powerful Combo cards. The trick becomes how to effectively piece these cards together to inflict maximum damage while also recognizing when to build up a finite block meter or make a tactical retreat to a different space. On top of that, there is a high variety of enemy types and that means strategies will often shift, meaning most fights won’t be approached in the same manner.

The artistic presentation is minimal, almost to a fault. Characters are drawn in silhouette, similar to the game Superhot. It’s a fun visual aesthetic for the most part and Ground Shatter makes it easy to distinguish not only who’s an enemy, but what variety of enemy they are. The only downside is that when the action starts to play out, it can be a little difficult to make out the actual stage. That can make it difficult to tell what’s an out-of-bounds area and, more importantly for the purpose of the game’s premise, also make it tough to see figures go flying downstairs or out windows. One of the most satisfying parts of an action scene is watching a bad guy get kicked in the teeth and sent flying to their demise and I don’t feel like this game makes the most of those moments.

Train harder, agent

The other key element of Fights in Tight Spaces is that it’s a roguelike at its core. There are six stages in the standard game mode, including one that was added for the 1.0 release, all of which offer branching paths. While the secret agent backdrop comes out of the modern day, players will find random event instances similar to Dungeons & Dragons (or, a more recent example, Slay the Spire) that can either help or hinder them.

There are a few difficulty settings available, which lowers the intimidation factor significantly. The lower difficulties offer assistance in the form of rollbacks that allow players to take mulligans on their turns and the ability to start levels from scratch after dying, albeit with the same amount of health they walked into that stage with. Even with those advantages, it’s possible to hit a wall and have to abandon a run. The main issue here is that it’s not possible to restart a stage or even quit out of a stage from the pause menu. At one point, I knew I was licked when I got cornered by three thugs, but there was no option to quit, so I had to play the whole thing out.

Like the best roguelikes, Fights in Tight Spaces allows the players to grow as they go. As the failed runs start to stack up, players will not only learn more about how the game operates, they’ll also pick up more cards, as well as access to pre-built decks. At that point, users can embark on a new run with a new pre-built deck or draft their own deck and try their luck creating their own strategy. It’s all heavily engaging, learning what works and what doesn’t, and even after losing several nights to this game, I’m still picking up new cards that make me want to try them out immediately.

While I was able to get through every chapter after a few sleepless nights, the game doesn’t end there. Fights in Tight Spaces offers daily challenge runs, each with different rule sets, that ensure that I’ll be playing this for a long time. If anything, the daily runs are more interesting, because they mix in enemy types from every chapter, which proves to be a true test of strategy.

Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?

Fights in Tight Spaces scratches an itch that I never even knew I had. The card battling system is excellent and easy to understand, the roguelike structure is laid out beautifully, the visuals are neat, the soundtrack is a low-key banger, and there are new challenges every day. This is without even mentioning that I don’t know when or if I’m going to be able to discover every card in this game.

The best thing I can say about Fights in Tight Spaces is that it’s so easy to get lost in a run. You can start this game at 7 or 8 p.m. and it’ll be midnight before you even know what’s what. It takes a special kind of game for me to lay in bed overnight thinking about what my strategy will be the next day, but this one has done that. It’s one of the best indie titles this year and will probably go down as one of my favorite roguelikes ever by the time this secret agent sits down to have his martini.


This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. Fights in Tight Spaces is available now on Steam and the Microsoft Store for $24.99. The game is rated M.