Have you ever seen those Sherlock Holmes films by Guy Ritchie, the ones with Robert Downey Jr in? Oh they're not that bad, come on. Guy Ritchie's Holmes has this ability to plan out fights before they happen. He imagines all the blows he's going to land, mentally weighing up their pros and cons, then chooses the best option, performing it in a blur of precise strikes. He barely raises a sweat as his systematically destroyed opponent crumples in a heap on the floor. It's very cool.
Fights in Tight Spaces reminds me of Sherlock Holmes. Mind you, it also reminds me of Neo, and of Jason Bourne and James Bond and John Wick and even Jackie Chan (I sense a theme here) - all of these very neat, very controlled, close-quarters fighters, who look like they're in trouble but it's really the enemies who are. It's about being the surrounded action hero who's about to show everyone why they're the action hero.
Given that, Fights in Tight Spaces probably doesn't sound like a turn-based game. But this is where the magic comes from. This is what allows you the Holmes-time to plan out what you're going to do. You're presented with a puzzle, a huddle of assailants around you, and you have to work out how to get out of their paths while simultaneously messing them up.
What you can do depends on the cards in your hand. Because on top of everything else, it's also a deck-building game like Slay the Spire. You begin with a thin, default deck of cards and then add to it, and hone it, as you go along, choosing from rewards after battles and upgrading and removing cards at relevant places along the way. Cards, then, represent everything you can do - even move. You cannot move around the tight fighting space without a relevant card allowing it. And this is a big thing, because movement in Fights is everything.
You can win by going toe-to-toe with enemies, and applying block cards and counter-attacks to cope with their damage, but it's a bit risky. Also, it's ugly. It goes against the spirit of the game. This is a game about pirouetting through danger, navigating a (mostly) melee minefield, while wrong-footing enemies and leaving them exposed to your attack. Or, even better, each other's attacks.
And honestly, you'll need all the help you can get. Fights in Tight Spaces is hard. I've only been playing a couple of hours, granted, but I haven't been able to clear even one of the missions, because I've been sloppy and not thoroughly considered what each enemy is going to do turn-by-turn, and landed myself in trouble.
Think of missions, incidentally, as Acts in Slay the Spire: a multi-route flow-chart of places to stop on your way to a boss. There are battles in various tight spaces - alleyways, kitchens, tattoo parlours - to choose from, as well as text-based scenarios, places to heal, and places to upgrade your cards.
The toughness only makes me want to try again, though, and when things go right, it feels badass, as though your enemies never stood a chance. And you can bask in your victory a bit afterwards, replaying the encounter from a zoomed-in cinematic camera angle. You can see me doing this in the video embedded here.
In other words, I'm a fan. Fights in Tight Spaces has found a way to distil my favourite part of action films while finding a strong new angle for the deck-building genre I'm fond of. It's not quite finished - it's in the Xbox Game Preview program at the moment, so bear that in mind, but there's a two-hour free trial for a taste. Give it a try!
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