Flame Over is a game that’s quick to highlight the comparisons to another acclaimed rogue-like Spelunky, their website featuring a quote from Kotaku which draws the direct comparison.
I can’t help feel that a lot of people will have gone out and bought this game on the strength of this alone; I know I was primed had a review code not landed in my lap a couple of days prior to release.
So, is it really Spelunky with a hose? Well, yes and no.
You’re a lone firefighter who is tasked with putting out fires throughout randomly generated levels against the clock. It’s a pretty simple formula and it’s done very well for the most part.
There are two types of fire you’ll encounter, electrical and regular. Regular flames can be put out with your ever reliable hose, whereas electrical flames can only be neutralised with your extinguisher. This leads to careful management of both, all the while seeking out places to top up mid mission to avoid the short but time consuming trot back to the level start to refill.
The controls are pretty much classic twin stick shooter with a couple of clever tweaks to help you spray while strafing. There’s an initial few minutes that feels a bit awkward but by the time you’ve finished the tutorial you’ll be more than capable.
The levels are randomly generated and span 4 areas; they contain both mid-level power-ups and permanent character upgrades to make your decent into the inferno that bit easier. The in-level items you can find and buy aren’t always overtly clear with what they do and I have to say I liked this; it makes you work out what they do under a bit of high pressure trial and error. Some items tend to be much more helpful than others; the latter seem to simply add another step to something you were able to do adeptly without.
Each level will also present you with numerous opportunities to save people (and cats) for time and health rewards respectively, while you gain money (at a rather generous rate I must admit) the whole time for successfully dousing patches of flames you encounter.
The physics of the fire are fantastic. Flames realistically growing and traversing the spaces they inhabit to quickly fill and overwhelm you, if you don’t learn the most efficient fire fighting techniques pretty quickly and most important of all, make completely sure you’ve doused any smouldering patches to stop yourself becoming trapped between two raging infernos.
The way the game conveys heat is nice and clear, although it lends to being easy to cheat it. As you get closer to a fire, a little circular dial starts to fill up around your player and if you don’t move back a safe distance, when it fills you’ll lose one of the four hearts you began with. It’s simple enough to back away to the door or a nice damp spot you’ve just created and there is a little bit of lag between you reaching safety and the meter dropping, so you do have to plan ahead a little more than you think at first. The meter seems to count the adjoining room as a safe area if you’ve just cleared it so even if there’s a patch of molten lava at your feet, crossing the threshold to the previous room resets your heat meter instantly in nearly all cases. This wouldn’t be so bad but the game pretty much shows you this during the demo which if not intended seems a bit of an oversight.
My main genuine gripe stems from the frankly brilliant fire physics. Certain burning spots will erupt every few seconds, launching fireballs into and across the room; these both damage your player and also have a decent chance of either spreading the fire further or re-igniting an area you have just hosed. This is indeed fiendish design but so horrendously annoying; perhaps overly so. One mistimed fireball can at any moment fly through the open door you’ve just entered through and turn the room you spent time and precious water & foam to put out. I appreciate this is almost certainly intended and any game that is vaguely rogue-like is going to lean towards the harder end of the scale; it just seemed to happen far too often for my tastes meaning I’d almost always either restart the level or stop playing altogether.
I’ve put over 500 hours into The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky combined over the last 18 months or so and in both of those games, you never feel properly abused by the RNG; bad things happen more often than not through a bad player decision, not at the whim of the game. I personally felt that Flame Over never lets you feel like you’re in the driving seat enough. Unlike in the other rouge-like/rouge-lite games, you’re very much a passenger going where the game wants to take you and you just have to do the best you can.
While typing out that last paragraph I come to the realisation that:
1. Maybe I’m not the Rouge-like aficionado I secretly think I am.
2. Flame Over may in fact be a more rogue-like game than anything I’ve played in that sense.
My grumbles aside I’m sure this game will have its own cult of loyal followers and judging by the largely very positive user reviews on Steam and admittedly very enjoyable underlying mechanics.
Overall this is a fun little game that sadly falls short of drawing me in for the gaming holy grail of “one more game”. Levels are satisfying to beat but often feel like the game simply won’t let you to win with the overuse of the overpowered flaming projectiles.
+ Amazing fire physics.
+Controls feel brilliant and responsive.
+Random levels mean huge replay-ability.
– Frustrating beyond words at times.
-God awful jazz soundtrack throughout.