Fights in Tight Spaces Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

There are an almost infinite number of roguelikes on the Switch, so it could be easy for you to miss the release of Fights in Tight Spaces. First released on PC and Xbox in December 2021, this is a tactical deck-builder that offers visceral violence and surprisingly deep strategy. The concept of one person against a room full of walking punching bags immediately evokes images of John Wick’s best fight scenes, while turn-based tactics keep the gameplay accessible even to those of us who lack the time to master combos or pixel-perfect platforming.

Playing as the enigmatic Agent 11, you are tasked with infiltrating increasingly dangerous criminal organisations. You get to choose between a male or female-presenting avatar, though your decision doesn’t change anything other than a visible shock of hair as you beat the hell out of waves of faceless goons.

Fights in Tight Spaces Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The minimalist art style reminded us of a melee-focused Superhot; people and environments have almost no features to them yet are somehow identifiable. You immediately recognise different enemies like shotgun-wielding bikers or brutish prison cooks and, within a few hours, find yourself able to predict their movements fairly well. At least, until you reach a new level and the game throws a new wrinkle at you. After each fight you can watch a playback of your brutality on screen as if it were a Hollywood production, which is a bit slow but still deeply satisfying to watch.

Gameplay consists of being dropped into a diorama of pain, with enemies approaching Agent 11 from all sides, and beating them into unconsciousness. You draw several cards from their deck each turn, each one with a different power. Some allow you to move one or two spaces from your current location while most are focused on inflicting damage on enemies or moving them around the battle grid. Once you’ve depleted your action points, called momentum, or run out of cards in your hand, your turn ends and the enemy all goes at once, attacking or moving in clearly marked patterns.

Because you can see what each enemy will do before their turn, it quickly becomes a game of attacking and leaving enough momentum to move yourself out of harm's way. Inflicting damage also increases your combo, which unlocks more powerful cards in your hand or even boosts the damage of certain attacks. At the end of your turn, all your cards are discarded, shuffled, and redealt and your momentum is reset to its base level. It is very much a “use it or lose it” system, which encourages you to push your turns to their limit.

With its turn-based format, we really enjoyed the tactical strategy involved in Fights in Tight Spaces. It is intensely satisfying to position yourself in the perfect spot where no one can hit you or, better yet, to get the enemies to shoot or stab each other. You can even knock them off the edge of the map or use the walls or tables to inflict bigger damage, though staying at the edge of the map can put you at risk of being boxed in. Things become more complicated as you progress, but each new rule is introduced gradually enough that it never feels overwhelming.

Fights in Tight Spaces Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Between levels, you progress along a map themed around whichever of the various gangs you’re infiltrating. For the most part, you’ll be dropped into a fight, but you can also find medical stops to help heal your injuries from previous fights or gyms that allow you to purchase or upgrade new cards. Health doesn’t replenish between fights as standard, which can make getting to the boss fights of each map a struggle. Many of your runs will depend on picking up a powerful buff that will give you more momentum per turn or even restore your health after every fight. You’ll probably beat the first map within one or two tries, but it took us over a dozen hours to complete our first run.

Unlike many roguelikes, you can choose your difficulty level. These don’t change enemy stats but easier difficulties allow you to take back a bad turn or ensure that you always have at least one movement card in your hand, both of which will greatly increase your success rate. Upping the difficulty once you’ve completed a few runs feels like a totally new experience. It is a really effective way of making the game feel longer than it actually is. You can easily sink 40 hours into beating every difficulty level if you want.

Progressing further into each map earns you experience points for your Agent 11, which allows you to equip increasingly powerful cards with different status effects. One of the biggest criticisms we have of Fights in Tight Spaces is that there isn’t quite enough synergy between the cards in each of the pre-set decks. The Aggressive deck, for example, doesn’t feel much different than the Balanced deck. You’re rarely able to put together the right cards to unleash true devastation on your enemies, but that’s because the game tries very hard to maintain its grounded feel. Even with the best cards in your deck, you’ll occasionally get a bad draw that leaves you completely vulnerable.

Fights in Tight Spaces Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The game also doesn’t play perfectly on Switch. It can be difficult to see some of the tiny symbols above enemies in handheld mode and the Joy-Con aren’t always great at picking up which of the branching paths you want to take or highlighting a specific enemy in a crowded map. FiTS is clearly a PC game that has been ported to the Switch and, despite its generally excellent presentation, some wrinkles don’t feel as smooth as they should.

On top of the campaign mode, you can also take part in daily challenges, which largely consist of a string of fights against enemies from each gang you’ll encounter throughout the game. Just like the main story, the plot here is thin and just an excuse to throw multiple fights at you and see how long you can survive.

There aren’t many roguelikes that feel this polished in their mechanics or visual style. Fights in Tight Spaces won’t win any awards for its story but it is a deeply enjoyable game that scratches that “one more run” itch. The fights are brutal without feeling graphic and the difficulty progression is incredibly well-balanced. This is a game that does exactly what it says in the title and it does it very well.

Conclusion

It takes a lot for a roguelike to feel truly fresh on Switch, but Fights in Tight Spaces does a great job of taking a well-worn format and making it feel just that. The turn-based combat means you’ll constantly be weighing up the right strategy while the unique difficult levels mean that completing your first run is only the start of the fun. Though it isn’t quite optimised for the Switch, it still looks and plays very well. Recommended.