Something about punching flannel-wearing bears and hind-legged deer in the face just didn’t feel right on a tiny touchscreen, so last night, I did something unusual: I reconnected my Ouya to play Fist of Awesome.
The $99 game console had been sitting untouched and unplugged on top of my TV stand since a few months ago, when Ouya sent a review unit. Other game consoles, set-top boxes and Google’s Chromecast had taken precedence for my television’s limited number of inputs, and when I felt like playing something, the grander fare of my Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 was more enticing.
But I have been waiting for Fist of Awesome since June, when I discovered it at Ouya’s E3 non-booth. It wasn’t a game that Ouya was showing off specifically, but I had a few minutes to peruse the console’s catalog and was intrigued by the cover art of a lumberjack dealing a rising uppercut to a brown bear. Moments later, I was cackling while performing that very action within the brief demo.
Fist of Awesome, which launched today on Ouya, iOS and Android, is a tribute to beat-em-ups like Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage. But instead of fighting street toughs, you’re duking it out with bipedal bears, deer, bison and occasionally dinosaurs. You control the eponymous Fist, which happens to be controlling the muscle movements of protagonist lumberjack Tim Burr, whose entire family has vanished thanks to some temporal meddling that put bears in control of the world. It’s hard to describe this game with a straight face.
Not everything about Fist of Awesome was as glorious as I’d hoped. The act of bear-fighting, however hilarious, does not introduce enough variety in the way enemies move and attack. Old-school brawlers required some delicate footwork to reach your foes unscathed, while in Fist of Awesome you can approach from pretty much any angle and punch away.
Still, Fist of Awesome’s humor and storyline carry it through. It’s sort of the video game equivalent of a Far Side comic, and it never shies away from a good pun — and a couple intentionally bad ones. I even detected a hint of stinging commentary and personal reflection in between bouts of tongue-in-cheek combat. The game’s chiptune soundtrack is also great to groove with as you’re beating back the bear horde.
I know it’s fashionable in some gaming circles to poo-poo Ouya — to dismiss the game selection as insubstantial and scoff at the idea of mobile games on a television screen. Fist of Awesome is a great rebuttal.
It’s a beat-em-up, after all, and although it’s available on phones and tablets, you can’t fully enjoy it without mashing physical buttons. It’s not an endless running game or some other stereotypical time waster, either. It has a beginning, an ending, and a plot to tie it all together. The best way to experience it is in a single, two-hour sitting — preferably in front of a television, where you can really soak in the blown-up pixel art and crank the original soundtrack. (If you want to keep punching animals, there’s an “Arena” mode with many more playable characters.)
Perhaps developer Nicoll Hunt could have released the game on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 for all the above reasons, but it’s a lot more complicated — and expensive — for an indie game developer to publish on the big consoles. It may get easier and less expensive with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but mobile platforms are the path of least resistance right now. Porting from mobile to Ouya is also fairly easy because the software is based on Android, and Ouya’s mandatory free-to-try policy means you can play through the first couple of levels before paying $4 for the rest. That’s the best way to see what Fist of Awesome is about.
Is it a killer app? No, and I doubt Ouya will ever have a single game that’s grand enough in scale to sell systems. But Fist of Awesome is a justification for Ouya and micro-consoles in general. It’s the kind of small-scale game that begs to be played on the big screen and finally has a way to get there.