From its title, Fights in Tight Spaces very kindly lets you know exactly what you’re getting into. At first, everything looks very simple. Agent 11, a black and white figure, drops down into a small space like a subway car, apartment balcony, or prison cell. Then, the player is presented with a series of cards. If I pick the right abilities, and position the Agent correctly, I get to pull off some sweet moves. Play my cards wrong, and I end up kissing the pavement and going back to the start of the game.
But there’s a surprising amount of depth to Fights in Tight Spaces; it’s the kind of game I can play for a few hours, close, and then I find myself opening it back up again within minutes. The roguelike’s sleek and elegant style is paired with a slow, methodical strategy game that rewards clever thinking. Everything that Fights in Tight Spaces lacks in narrative breadth or level variety, it makes up in fiendishly clever Into the Breach-like battles and tightly tuned mechanics.
The story of Fights in Tight Spaces doesn’t matter. My spy handler tells me Berlin has “a ninja problem,” and that’s all the explanation I get. But that’s really all the explanation I need to get started. I fight through a series of levels, starting with some lowly bikers and working my way up through prison guards and tougher foes like ninjas and European hitmen.
Each level is turn-based, and I use my cards to navigate the small environment on a grid, and launch attacks or defend myself. For instance, I can kick a goon back towards the bar, then shift towards him and smash his head into the bar for big damage. Or, I can vault over a table, put on a counter-move that triggers on an enemy attack, and prepare to flip the guy who will definitely attack me next turn.
I can use a pre-made deck or build my own. Of the pre-made decks, some are defensive, based on grappling or using counters to deflect enemy damage and return it with a hit. Others are about using a knife or my feet and fists to dish out damage and get the bad guys before they get me. Luckily, there are occasional slow-mo, slightly zoomed in highlights that show Agent 11 smashing a guy’s head or landing the perfect shot.
The enemies I face change my strategy; someone with an assault rifle has different skills than a beefy goon. Some enemies auto-attack if I move close to them, and others queue up abilities to fire off on their turn. Ideally, I want to stay out of their attack range and area of effect abilities, and if I’m really clever, I can use the environment to my advantage. Soon, I start getting my foes to kill each other by shoving a guy into his buddy’s attack range, or I just boot them off a railing and into oblivion.
As I advance, I get smarter. Every time I win a fight, I get a new card to add to my deck. But there are also less obvious ways to advance. First of all, I have to make sure I’m balancing my deck with enough movement, attack, and defense cards. If I use movement I can stay safe, but I burn down combo points and make it more difficult to win bonus achievements. If I use combat, I can clean up fast and get bonuses, but I put myself at risk since my health pool remains consistent between fights.
Every time I go through a run, I have to make choices on how I want to proceed. The roguelike has a limited overworld map for each level; I can choose which fight I want to take, or swing by the gym or hospital to exchange money for permanent power upgrades. If I choose an Event, I can get a big advantage like a cool new ability or some extra health, or I can end up in a scenario where I lose money or health.
I can also sometimes choose Enhancements, which are powerful abilities. One Enhancement, which causes my Agent to take three damage points at the start of each turn, compensates by healing her to full at the end of a level. But the Enhancements are an area where developer Ground Shatter could have swung for the fences a little more; most of them are just straight increases to stats, and it’d be nice to have some more “out there” effects that change my strategy significantly.
Overall, though, Fights in Tight Spaces is a surprisingly engaging little package of a game. Losing on Suave difficulty is especially forgiving; I can abandon a run, go back to the map, or start the level over every time I die. When I abandon a run, I get a chunk of XP, which allows me to get more cards and decks. I’m always learning and moving forward, and so losing feels pretty fair, especially because there’s a solid range of difficulty options.
Winning, on the other hand, just feels fantastic. Whether it’s kicking a samurai over a balcony railing or diving at a lady with two shotguns so I can kick her in the face, there are tons of satisfying little moments. Fighting is fun, and doing it in a tight space naturally leads to nicely cinematic moments. If you’ve been craving the small-scale, ramped-up chess feel of a title like Into the Breach, Fights in Tight Spaces is a fantastic game that packs plenty of punch.
Fights in Tight Spaces was released on Dec. 2 on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.