Firefighting is an exciting yet dangerous occupation. It would seem to perfectly fit the video game medium if done right. Imagine you the protagonist charging through a wall of flames, rescuing innocent bystanders, navigating around collapsed infrastructure, dispatching fire at every turn and at the end of it all being a hero basked in glory knowing you made a difference. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Then why wasn’t this done more in video games?? I can think of only two SNES games that went the fireman route: The Firemen and The Ignition Factor. We’ll cover The Firemen today and we’ll save The Ignition Factor for a future review.
Flame By Night
It’s the year 2010, and a chemical company is having its annual Christmas party on the premises. A fire breaks out in the kitchen and next thing you know the whole building is on fire fueled by the various chemicals within the company.
Enter our firefighting team Pete (you), Danny, Max, Walter, and Winona. Renowned for their bravery and skill, can these members of the D-Sector Fire Brigade save the hapless employees and their family members still stuck in the Metrotech Chemical Company? Or will this be like the worst Christmas ever?
Gameplay and Controls
Firefighters have to be quick and responsive amid the fiery danger all around them. Luckily for this game, the control scheme follows that train of thought. Pressing Y will make Pete shoot water straight ahead while B will allow him to spray water in a downward direction. X is for throwing extinguishing bombs if you have them. You can hold up to three at a time and you can find more when running low. When you have three bombs equipped and grab a fourth, you enter into hyper mode where your water sprays are more powerful and Pete seems to move a little quicker. Definitely useful, but one hit and hyper mode goes away.
A handy tactic is crawling to get into tight spots or narrowly escaping the wrath of vicious fire baddies. This can be done with the A button. Holding L or R trigger buttons when spraying will lock you in that position. This is good when you want to shoot water in a specific direction and need or want to be on the move. Finally, the select button grants you the ability to speed through the dialogue sequences between characters. Controls are simple and effective.
The game embodies an element not often seen. Yes, we know fire is dangerous if it gets out of control. It can destroy you and everything around you. This game personifies fire. All the enemies are fire-based. In this game, fire seems to be alive, capable of thought and reason. The fire is deliberately trying to attack Pete and Danny. It’s like a battle between man and nature at its wildest.
Pete and Danny partner up during missions while Max and Walter make up another team whom are always in another part of the building. Winona is at the station giving valuable information to her team members. Danny is controlled by the computer. And I must say I’ve never had a better A.I. partner! He is crucial to your success as he goes to bat for you and takes lots of punishment! Consider him an invincible shield as he covers your blindside by axing the fire minions to nothingness! The game gets challenging in the later stages with him. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be without him.
So there are 6 stages that make up the MetroTech building. You traverse several rooms dispatching fire and rescuing survivors in an overhead view. At the end of each stage is a boss to contend with. While playing, conversations trigger in certain parts of the game between the team and can be read at the bottom of the screen. These little snippets are entertaining to read the first couple of times, but quickly become tiresome when you replay levels and all you really want to do is beat the game. I’m thankful I can speed through the storyline portions.
There are other shortcomings that must be mentioned. The game won’t last you very long. It takes less than 2 hours to complete, though admittedly I had about a solid 15 hours with the game before I was good enough to beat it. This might not be a con for you if you enjoy your games short and sweet. The beauty of its brevity is that this is a fantastic game for speedruns. In fact you are graded at the end of the game on how well you did. Percentage of fire you put out in each stage, percentage of people you rescued, and how much time you took to finish contribute to your final letter grade. It’ll take a very good player to attain that A rating!
The Firemen can also be frustrating. Seemingly unavoidable hits, unintended hits, attacks in swarms and your life bar dropping to almost zero inexplicably sometimes during boss fights does rain on the parade a little bit. Danny does his best, but even he can’t save you from every last enemy that approaches. Slowdown does exist in the game, especially in stages 4 and 5. Another issue I have is there is no two-player option. A game that puts a two person team dynamic at the forefront, yet offers no co-op play is asinine to me. The only replay value you get is seeing how fast you can beat the game and how high of a rating you can achieve. Well, there is another team in the building. Why couldn’t there have been an option to play as Max and Walter? Maybe we could have seen rooms not available to Pete and Danny or fought different bosses or rescued other people or visited some of the same rooms but in a different time frame. That would have upped the replay value a couple of notches, but alas no. My final irritation is the annoying beeping sound when your life bar is almost empty. It’s the same damn beeping sound from the Legend of Zelda games when Link’s life is low. Ugh, go away!
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are very good. There isn’t anything flashy or extraordinarily impressive, but the game conveys its visual theme well. Colors are fine. Obviously orange and yellow are the ones most notable since this is a firefighting action game. The human sprites aren’t overly big, but they don’t need to be. The developers were able to adequately display detail and emotion with the characters. You get a nice overhead view of the action and the surroundings are nicely detailed in a cartoony way. Nothing wrong with that.
The music is just average or below that. It’s there is all I can really say. I may not have noticed if there was no music at all. That’s how unmemorable the soundtrack is or how intense the action can become, whichever way you want to think about it. Sound effects are a plus though. Water swooshing out of your hose and extinguishing fire sounds pretty accurate, there’s good sound effects with windows breaking, when Pete is hit, his exclamation of pain makes me cringe, and the effect of Danny kicking boxes out of the way is fun as well.
This is a solid game that puts a new twist on the top down shooter genre. How many opportunities can we say in gaming we got to play as a firefighter and saved the day? Premise aside, the game is well done, challenging, has nice cartoony graphics, controls nicely, and is fun while it lasts. The concept is so neat, firefighting, that this game seems fresh even to veteran gamers who may have played something similar under a different guise. Making something old appear new is a rare accomplishment these days.
I would liked to have seen two-play coop, a password system, better music and ability to play as Max and Walter for extended replay value, but all in all I can confidently recommend The Firemen to platform and action genre fans.
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