As you can probably gather from the name, Ultimate Stick Fight features a lone stickman battling against the odds (or in this case, a crime syndicate) also made up of stickmen. The combat is key to a title like this and thankfully, it’s pretty good. There’s a variety of combos (ranging from basic punches to combining kicks and punches for effect) and each feels satisfying to pull off thanks to some decent controls. You can also juggle enemies in the air with your attacks and are rewarded for doing so with extra coins. More combos can be unlocked as your character levels and hopefully we will see an extension of this later on in the game’s life.
Combat is based around a three button system – punch, kick and jump – as well as a hold button to pick up objects to throw at enemies, clearing crowds in an instant. You also build up a rage meter which can be unleashed to deal huge damage to every enemy on screen. Later on in the game, your use of interactive objects becomes essential in defeating enemies, especially when harder varieties are spawning constantly. Other beat-em-up staples are included in the form of food items to pick up and heal yourself with (whether this actually works in reality is still to be decided). The whole thing feels like a love letter to one of gaming’s classic genres and fans will pick up on this immediately.
You are initially given a choice between two characters – Ryan and Slash. Apart from differences in design (Slash comes with a purple bandana and some sweet kicks. Ryan… well, he’s a stickman) and a slight change in some combos, both are fairly similar which is a shame. The game has 40 stages to get through as well as three different difficulty levels. Most of the stages use the same backgrounds however and it feels like you’re revisiting the same stages over and over again. Later on, stages do scroll from left to right in classic beat-em-up style but the background repeats as you scroll, making progression feel limited. An actual campaign travelling through various linked areas and scenes would have been welcome.
Your opposing stickmen come in a range of varieties as you go through the stages, starting out with basic punch and kick mobs to dynamite throwing ones. Combining these together can make the game feel quite hectic, especially when you’re juggling a group of enemies with more bearing down on you. In order to battle the ever increasing hordes, there’s a levelling system that allows you to spend money on upgrading your combos and stats when you have obtained enough stars from the stages (each stage completed gives you a star rating out of 3 based on how well you did). There’s a heap of upgrades to purchase giving you more reason to play on. In particular, the option to upgrade your combos to dish out more damage feels massively rewarding.
Ultimate Stick Fight might not be a classic but it’s the sort of game you’ll return to again and again for a short blast. It’s unlikely to convert you to the cult of beat-em-up if you missed out the first time but fans of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon should find common ground here. With a full single player campaign, this could have been an essential nostalgic romp. As it stands, it’s an addictive return to a classic genre.