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Review: Ion Fury (Nintendo Switch)

Ion Fury is a snapshot of a different time. The first game in twenty years to utilize Ken Silverman’s Build Engine, the foundation for classics like Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, and my personal favorite, Powerslave. In 2019, Voidpoint was lauded with high praises for delivering a modern take on the vintage First Person Shooter. Now a year later, Voidpoint is looking to emulate their success in the console market, with eyes on the Nintendo Switch to deliver the lion’s share of the profit.

Porting video games are a common place, and for small time indie developers, it’s the mark of making something truly special. But let me tell you something you probably already know – porting a video game is hard work. Especially when you’re moving from a more powerful platform to an inferior one. Making mistakes when converting code could lead to a plethora of problems: poor frame rate, graphical issues, game crashes, etc. It’s why quality control is paramount to delivering a good faith product. As for Ion Fury’s Switch port, it feels like some corners were cut too close.

A Solid Foundation

Ion Fury’s story remains unchanged: GDF Soldier Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison takes up arms against the insane Dr. Jadus Heskel after his army of cybernetic super soldiers lays siege to Neo D.C. Armed with an impressive arsenal of firearms and cheesy one-liners, Shelly brings the fight to Heskel as she rips through wave after relentless wave of murder drones. A very standard baseline for the 90’s scifi shooter, Todd Replogle would be proud.

Double Stacked

The value of Ion Fury comes three-fold: A unique weapon set, in-depth stage building, and a masterfully crafted soundtrack. More often than not in First Person Shooters, you come to a point where you find “that weapon”. The key that cripples all enemies in your path and carries you to victory. Doom has the BFG, Quake has the Nailgun. Ion Fury doesn’t have “that weapon”, rather the entire arsenal of weapons found in the over-world are equal parts deadly when compared to each other.

This is because nearly every firearm comes stock with a secondary fire that fulfills different purposes. Shelly’s starting revolver “Loverboy” offers an alternate action that auto targets highlighted enemies in quickfire. The Ion Bow at first glance is most effective at close range, but you can switch between spread-shot or rapid fire bursts depending on how long you charge your shot. The Disperser shotgun doubles as a grenade launcher, bowling bombs can either home in on enemies or be lit for an instant fire bomb. Each weapon acquired feels like two weapons. No matter what you pick up, you never feel like you’re stuck with an inferior weapon because each weapon feels properly balanced.

City Under Siege

One of my biggest complaints with Quake II was the arbitrary locations of key cards and switches in these large obtuse stages. While impressively-built in their own right, it always felt like you were on a scavenger hunt searching for that one switch to activate an elevator on the other side of the level. I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted dragging my feet in circles, searching high and low for cracks and false doors to find secrets and hidden weapon caches.

Voidpoint learned from these mistakes, and made it a point to still challenge the player with environmental obstacles and puzzles – all while keeping desired consumables and key items a reasonable distance from their checkpoints. Exploration doesn’t feel like a gauntlet of spike-pits or a chain of unavoidable arena fights (although they do exist).

Instead of a carefully laid-out death trap, Neo D.C. feels almost like a living, breathing city being choked out by the tyrannical hand of a droid army. Levels are designed to feel like actual city landscapes, compounds and laboratories. Traversing through the slums feels like you’re shooting your way through the filthy alleyways of the Green Line. It is this attention to detail that successfully immerses the player into the world building of Ion Fury.

Music to Be Murdered By

Rounding out the total Ion Fury experience is the outstanding synthwave-nior styled soundtrack. Finnish Demoscene artist Jarkko Rotsten did an incredible job fleshing out the soul of the retro shooter by borrowing the dreary elements from its progenitors like Deus Ex and System Shock 2 and adding his own signature flair found in personal works such as “Composed for Compos vol​.​1.” Tracks like Bango and Antistatic enhance the intensity of the quick gunplay Ion Fury has to offer.

Loose Footing

It’s been established that within it’s natural habitat (being the PC), Ion Fury has what it takes to be something special. Voidpoint went above and beyond in crafting what feels like a love letter to yesterday’s genre defining classics. However the practical application on the Nintendo Switch has been anything but kind to the ambitious project.

Ion Fury suffers heavy drops in frame rate when graphically challenged. Boss fights are among the most tedious encounters when faced off against a swarm drones and laboratory aberrations, all while a bi-pedal mech launches a constant barrage of grenades and small arms fire. Combat is supposed to be quick and fluid by design, but the frames dropping to a crawl during intense firefights makes larger fights difficult to manage. Heck, even staving off a group of six or seven enemies in a tight corridor can prove challenging if you trigger swarms of these tiny spider bots that come swinging for your ankles.

A Glitch in the Matrix

What is probably the most infuriating problem with Ion Fury lies in the glitches. I’ve gotten stuck a few times trying to climb double stacked ladders that will push you off at the halfway point, only to suffer falling damage. Cover has flat out disappeared on me, leading to my demise. Shelly will literally snap a full 180 degrees while under heavy fire, although, I feel like this happens only during certain levels.

The game’s difficulty also feels a bit inconsistent. There’s an uncomfortable skill gap between Ion Fury’s easy and normal modes. It feels like during standard play, if a single enemy finds you, you can expect a swarm of enemies enclosing on your position. Any difficulty above normal provides slight upticks in challenge, but the game’s easy mode literally hands you the keys to the final boss. Droids simply shoot you once or twice and wait for you to kill them. Groups have no situational awareness when their party members go down. Meanwhile, you fire a single shot in hard mode and you’ve got an entire battalion closing in on your position.

Sluggish Finish

While Ion Fury is ultimately a modern take on the classics, I would have preferred to see some quality of life updates. You’re often left guessing how many rounds are left in your magazines, as all ammunition is tallied in a single group. This can be annoying when engaging the enemy and you’re trying to remember if you have one or two rounds in the magazine to fire off, vice jumping for cover and reloading. Also, with stages so wide and vast, I’d love to know from what direction I’m being shot. Perhaps having the side or corner of the hub flash red depending on the direction I get hit in would be better than the entire screen temporarily blotting my vision.

Before closing, I want to make it absolutely clear that I believe that Voidpoint hit the ball out of the park with Ion Fury – on the PC. It is truly a fantastic shooter, especially if you’re a long term fan of old school First Person Shooters. But as it stands, unless the Nintendo Switch version gets a hard patch to fix the performance issues and the glitches, I cannot in good faith recommend this version to anyone.

Pros:
+Masterclass on Level Design
+Fulfilling arsenal at your disposal
+Killer OST

Cons:
-Frame-Rate chugs during intense firefights
-Inconsistent levels of difficulty
-Glitches that will leave you ripping your hair out
-Could use some quality of life changes

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Christopher Wenzel

One half of The ScrubVerse Podcast. Hardcore retro gaming collector and aficionado of RPGs. Will do morally ambiguous things for a remake of Phantasy Star IV. Send Jameson for morale.

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