‘Fights in Tight Spaces’ review: action-packed card brawler could be this year’s ‘Slay The Spire’

Kick! Punch! It's all in the mind

have you ever had a fistfight in an elevator? I haven’t, and I have to admit I’m not really fond of the idea. I’m 6’7 and on a good day, I near enough fill an elevator by myself. Fights in Tight Spaces is the game that set me off pondering my suitability for lift-based brawling, but it also reinforced my belief that I’m not really made for it.

Better add bars, kitchens, skyscraper roofs, and train cars to the list, too. Oh, and alleyways. I’m a fleshy chunk of useless meat that would be poorly suited to a starring role in an action movie, but the deckbuilding brawler by Ground Shatter lets me live out the fantasy, and what an incredible fantasy it is.

Fights in Tight Spaces does a really good job of taking the carnage of an action movie brawl in a tight space and turning it into a tense turn-based deckbuilder that has you making careful movements and brutal attacks in close confined areas. There’s something claustrophobic about trying to dodge away from a cleaver-wielding Chef that’s trying to carve you up, as you dance past him and smash another guy’s head into a wall, using all of your earned combo to make sure it really hurts.

All of this violence is abstracted into a clean, dispassionate white arena: this is a prison van, or a train car, or a subway station. Each turn you’ll draw a handful of cards and then play as many as you can, letting you move around, redirect enemies or even just kick them. With each win you’ll be able to add another card to your deck, and while many deckbuilding games reward you for having a small, tight deck to win matches with, I’ve found it almost impossible to turn down a card in Fights in Tight Spaces. After all, a jumping punch might not fit into my plans, but who can really turn down whacking someone by flying through the air?

Fights In Tight Spaces
Fights In Tight Spaces. Credit: Ground Shatter

As you layer extra moves into the combat, the game really comes to life, too. A sidestep that forces enemies to attack where you just were could see you pitching enemies against each other.

If there’s one core tenet here, it’s that things work, logically. Like action movies, the rule of cool (let’s be honest) is in charge: my first victory saw me suplex the big boss out of the rear of a cargo plane, tossing him to the ground thousands of feet below. This wasn’t the way the fight was planned to go – he had over a hundred HP and it was clearly designed to be a careful war of attrition – but there’s no greater feeling than the positioning working out and you getting to skip a huge brawl because of your brains. Punting a tricky enemy off a roof or pushing a big guy into the midst of his pals so they’ll all batter each other all feel just as rewarding. There are references here to every action movie you can think of, with a personal highlight being a move which has your character reload their arms like Henry Cavill in Mission Impossible: Fallout.

The game works as both a tactical strategy game but also with its setting. The action-movie cred and over the top brawls really land, and the setting feels unique in the deckbuilding world. It’s an inspired choice to make a tactics game that feels tied into smaller scuffles. Elsewhere, the actual tactical game itself – both in terms of the cards you’re given and the movements – is intriguing. Grappling, knife fighting, and even pelting people in the face with a pocket of sand are all distinct tactical possibilities here, and it’s nice to see every aspect of a cinematic throwdown given a distinct game advantage.

Fights In Tight Spaces
Fights In Tight Spaces. Credit: Ground Shatter

The different enemy types are ripped straight from the Ladybird book of movie stereotypes too: there are ninjas, there are bikers, there are tall women in fancy coats that will absolutely beat you to death if given half a chance. The enemies are all given interesting quirks that will throw problems into any plan that you come up with: some enemies have the incredibly frustrating ability to move whenever you play a movement card, meaning as you swap places with a foe to get some breathing space, another will instantly sidle up next to you ready to attack. Others are immune to throws, or being pushed, or perhaps will even just attack you back whenever you hit them. The real meat of the game involves using your hand of cards in creative ways to wrestle with each of them without getting too pummelled in return.

There’s some bits I didn’t vibe with so much. The energetic soundtrack doesn’t fit with my plodding playstyle, and the difficulty is quite savage – a classic plus mode will allow you to restart failed battles and even go back to the start of your turn a set amount of times per fight, but there are still situations where you’ll get cornered and beaten to death. However, neither of these are really big issues, and failing a run isn’t too difficult as you then get the fun of building a new deck and seeing how that fares against the gauntlet of evildoers you need to give a good biffing to.

Fights in Tight Spaces is available for PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. We reviewed it on PC.

The Verdict

Fights in Tight Spaces is one of my favourite strategy games of the year. The compelling blend of action movie sensibilities and big-brain strategic overtures means I’m struggling to put it down, and if you’re a fan of Slay The Spire or Monster Train, this is every bit as bruising a strategy game, and easily as replayable.

Pros

  • Weaving through each fight is incredibly rewarding
  • Trying out new decks offers reams of replayability
  • Strategy fans will find plenty of depth to dive into

Cons

  • Some players may find the game surprisingly difficult
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