There was a point in time where everyone was trying to make their own first-person shooter to fight off Doom and try to bite a chunk out of the craze. 3D Realms, a seal under id’s former partner way back when brought their popular side-scroller hero Duke Nukem to center stage and made one of the best FPS from that time in Duke Nukem 3D. Sure enough, Duke’s character style has aged terribly since then, and the much delayed follow-up failed to be anything but a steaming pile of crap. It seemed that after Duke Nukem Forever any attempt at trying to create anything with a scrap of relation to that franchise would be a fool’s play.
Ten years or so after that debacle though, we get Ion Fury, a throwback FPS that started as an indie project which eventually got picked up by 3D Realms themselves as an official release by the company most known by exactly what it’s going for: being a game that evokes almost everything that Duke Nukem 3D had going for, except for Duke’s macho man personality being its focus. Ion Fury is by all means a product in a similar vein to the old Shadow Warrior, a game that makes use of the same engine as Duke Nukem 3D, but tries to be its own thing. In its case, an old school FPS starring a female cop as she takes down rows and rows of bad guys in a run down futuristic city.
For anyone not instantly familiar with how this form of FPS differs from good ol’ Doom, the big thing that it had going was the fact that you could freely aim in any direction, and its design benefited from that quite a lot. That and the overall tone of those games, which not at all bafflingly boiled down to gross humor and lots of teasing of pixelated female nudity, and in Shadow Warrior’s case, a depiction of Asian stereotypes that would never fly nowadays. Ion Fury does somewhat of a decent job dodging those themes by having a more serious overall tone, down to the quips uttered by its heroine.
That’s not to say that the game is free of any controversy, since it got a lot of attention around August of last year, when some offensive material was found within Ion Fury that the developers ping-ponged on whether or not would be edited out. That resulted in a lot of back and forth between incensed users who review-bombed it thanks to the devs’ attitudes regarding the matter. Since the offending content was found by using a clipping cheat — for you youngsters out there, it relates to walking through walls and finding stuff hidden away during development — I personally had no way to access it while playing this Switch port in order to find out if it’s really been removed.
Problems like that aside, Ion Fury itself is a fun shooter that is as enjoyable to play as its inspirations were back in the 1990s. Shelly’s — that’s the protagonist’s name — arsenal grows to a comical degree throughout the adventure, and it includes all manner of weapons you’re likely to expect in a game like this, even including a baton that can be used if you’re even out of bullets. Luckily for you, there’s plenty of that to find along your trail of carnage. The only real issue with this version of Ion Fury is pretty much its defining feature: being on the Switch. The game itself runs wonderfully and looks as sharp as something that could have dropped from a time capsule buried in 1996, but controlling it is a whole other matter, thanks to the Switch’s terrible control scheme in portable mode.
It’s a gripe I constantly have with that system that’s likely to ever go away since it gets in my way more than anything else with games released for it. In Ion Fury’s case, it makes the game a pain to play in portable mode since it requires a certain amount of finesse in order to get shots to hit their targets with precision, and similarly to other games that require that, it’s painfully annoying to play as is. In TV mode and using a Pro Controller or a base JoyCon grip, the game plays as intended, and is my only option if I ever hope to keep playing this game past the review.
If you decide to pick this up, keep in mind that outside of my gripes with the controls inherently tied to it being on the Switch, Ion Fury an otherwise really fun take on shooters from long ago, and one that isn’t shy about looking the part either. Regardless of your opinion on paper-thin enemies and well, plot, there’s plenty of cool retro nostalgic gameplay to be found in this colorful, neon-baked modern blast from the past.