For this week's installment of Free and Worth Every Penny, we have something of a throwback, and I don't think I'll have to sell you too hard on it, because it kind of sells itself. It's the story of a man who has his scarf stolen. Also his girl and his dog, but that's incidental; nobody ever - ever - gets away with stealing a man's scarf. This is the story of...
Action Fist is everything you love - and hate - about classic 8- and 16-bit scrolling shooters. It's swarms of enemies pouring in from all directions. It's switching weapons on the fly and powering them up to be unreasonable killing machines. It's a vehicle level where you somehow stand up on the vehicle while still driving it. It's bosses so big they can't fit on screen. It's climbing up the side of a rocket, while that rocket flies into space. It's completely absurd and completely great. Allow me to step back for a moment and let the game speak for itself:
Yeah. It's like that.
Developer Beau Blythe of Teknopants.com has added some refinements to the traditional formula, or in some cases culled from other genres and later games to enhance the experience. A wall jump and double jump assist your platforming escapades, while color-coded enemies match up to color-coded weapons that will do more damage to them. There are three colors, and you can carry only two weapons, so you'll have to make decisions on the fly as to which ones will help you most.
For the most part, though, the mechanics are exactly what you expect them to be if you grew up on Contra, Mega Man, and Metal Slug. Where the game earns its place among those giants, in my mind, is in the aesthetics. Every level is lovingly crafted and the backgrounds, while simple, differentiate the levels nicely. Animations are well done, with some excellent explosions, especially in the memorable boss battles, where truly massive creatures and machines test your pattern-matching and precision. And the entire experience is supplemented with excellent music by Beau's brother Austin; I felt right at home wasting baddies to the retro score the whole time.
And make no mistake, it's not a short experience. While not approaching the depth or breadth of something like Cave Story, Action Fist still ran quite a bit longer than I expected it to. The length isn't oppressive, though, as each level is split up generously into checkpoints that prevent you having to replay too much of the level when you die (and oh, will you ever die). Pretty much every level also has at least one "Oh $#!t" moment where you simply rush forward praying for that next checkpoint, especially in the final levels, but with only a few exceptions, they never felt too unfair.
This isn't the largest boss by a long shot.
I should warn you that there were occasional moments where the game got controller-smashingly difficult - I won't lie, the final boss nearly had me rage-quitting several times before I powered my way through. (You remember Dr. Wily, right? How every time he's dead, he's not dead? It's one of those.) But the charming ending and credits sequence were suitable rewards for my efforts, and I certainly came away from the whole thing happy that I spent the time. Multiple difficulty levels allow you to turn down the heat, too, if things get too rough. The game also features a co-op mode which sadly I didn't get to try, but if any of you do, please chime in and let me know how it is. I have to imagine it only gets better when shared. Which, of course, is why I'm sharing it with you.
Action Fist is...
- unashamedly, gloriously over the top.
- filled with affection for the side-scrolling action genre.
- one of the most technically competent freeware games of its sort I've played in a long time.
- a game you should not miss.
The game is Windows only, under 10MB in size, and can be downloaded right over here.