About a week ago, I was instructed by the Suits in corporate to brush up on my theology and review a new arcade style beat-em-up going by the name, Fist of Jesus. Since I had my plate full with the whole drawing pentagrams on the carpet deal of my last review, I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and actually play, so when I finally got that friendly little nudge from my editor, I decided I had to buckle down, find a crucifix, and load up Steam. While I’m not big on the whole “religion” thing, I nonetheless had a cross to bear (yeah, just be happy I didn’t do the review in the style of a hymn), and I’d be damned if the world went without my review for another day. So say your prayers and join me as we review the holiest game on the market, Fist of Jesus.
The two playable characters, Jesus and Judas, are tasked with taking down Lazarus, a man whom Jesus is said to have resurrected from death after waving his hands or casting a Harry Potter spell of some sort. In turn, Lazarus, who was probably fine with being dead, is now lashing out at the world by creating hordes of zombified Roman soldier, lepers (not leopards, please keep up), and cowboys. It’s up to Jesus and his would-be betrayer to cut down swathes of zombies and kill Lazarus once again. Yes, this whole thing is based on a movie, and yes, the movie follows the story of the bible word for word.
The gameplay is reminiscent of arcade classics like Battletoads and Final Fight. You, a highly overpowered individual with certain magical prowess, take on hordes of weaker individuals, creating a sort of pit-fighting horde mode atmosphere. If your first character dies, you automatically switch in with your reserve. The two character concept is interesting in that it really brings out the game’s RPG elements. Jesus and Judas both have separate upgrade trees and perks, and using one more often than the other means certain unlockables will become available at an uneven rate. Where other beat-em-up games focused solely on level progression, Fist of Jesus does a decent job of centering on the character.
While the game only has one type of melee attack, knocking down enemies and breaking the barrels and baskets placed around each arena yields a plethora of different weapons and powerups. At one point, I had Judas rocking a revolver while raining massive stars from the heavens. I can recall thinking, “Holy Christ,” then biting my tongue as I remembered what I was playing. Along with an array of Son-Of-God-themed weapons and powers, you also have the chance every once and a while to stun opponents and deal out a kill move that would make even the Almighty Father proud. So long was I was content with ripping out hearts and eviscerating people with a swordfish that I’m fairly certain something’s wrong with me.
The game itself spans a solid 60 levels, dragging the dynamic duo across desert, sea, and forest backdrops. While most of the level objectives are simply to survive past the countdown timer, some require killing X number of mini bosses or gaining X number of points. By adding in a few separate objectives per level, you can no longer just run around the crowd of enemies, forcing them to idle in the center of the screen while you lazily blast them with holy fire until the timer runs out. There’s actually a sense of urgency to it all, and at certain points (usually after having to replay the level), I found myself both on the edge of my seat and screaming with a sense of righteous fury.
The cartoon-quality graphics, mixed with the sounds of dismembered zombies and Judas’ death cry, all come together pretty cohesively. While Judas and Jesus both have an impish charm to them, the amount of gore and heart-ripping throughout the game counters any level of childish whimsy, creating an interesting, if not psychotic, juxtaposition.Sadly enough, the cutscenes seem a bit lackluster. Instead of rolling text across the screen, why not ease the level transition via clips from the actual movie? That would have been an easy cop out, one I would’ve enjoyed much more than having to read everything (who the hell reads anymore?).
While the combat and character building are interesting, the curse of monotony inherent in beat-em-up games couldn’t help itself from settling in around ten levels into the whole thing. The point of today’s “arcade-style” games is to recreate gems from the past, sure, but that doesn’t mean we’re limited to the very simple play structure of the games from yesteryear. Sure there were a few objectives apart from just maintaining a pulse, but even those became a tiredly recycled gimmick towards the end. Fist of Jesus also seems to have missed the point of boss fights when it comes to this genre. While the grunts are supposed to be easy and high in quantity, the boss is supposed to be a singular pain in the ass. Here, boss fights lasted approximately however long it took for me to press the smite button and light everything within the nineteen inches of my screen on fire. Not much of a challenge there, guys.
Fist of Jesus is a cute little throwback to a genre of games I grew up wasting quarters on. The gameplay, while repetitive after a handful of levels, is diverse enough to split itself apart from its cohort of pit-fighting brawlers, and the character upgrades throw in a unique RPG feel. But while the game runs smoothly and the cheeky storyline is laughably heretical, the $10 asking price is a bit much, considering you’re now obligated to drudge through 60 versions of the same level to reach the end. In the grand scheme of things, it’s certainly nothing special and it won’t break any records, but I sure as Hell wouldn’t crucify the developers for trying.