If’s there a more overused term in the world of gaming right now than “roguelike,” I’m not sure what it is. Every other day it seems a new one is hitting our digital marketplaces, and on this day it’s Laughing Jackal’s Flame Over, a firefighting roguelike for the PlayStation Vita. So, let’s fire up the Vita (see what I did there?) and see how hot this game really is.
Flame Over operates like a twin-stick shooter with movement assigned to the left stick and aiming and camera rotation to the right. Your bumpers control the hose and extinguisher, respectively, while the face buttons are used for power-ups, object/NPC interaction and tossing water bombs.
It’s straightforward for the most part with one significant asterisk: you have to stop spraying the hose to rotate the camera. Since both aiming and rotation are handled with the right stick you can only do one or the other at a given time. That can be problematic as fire will often surround you, necessitating spraying in multiple directions quickly. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it can absolutely be irritating.
Pairing cutesy graphics with tough gameplay is another recent favorite on the indie scene, and it’s in full effect here. Your character has a bulbous, cartoonish nose with a hat so large it obscures everything else except his giant moustache. The levels are colorful with decent detail work, and the fire itself is well rendered as it spreads, is doused and then reignites.
There’s little to say about the game’s audio. The soundtrack repeats endlessly, increasing in tempo as your allotment of time winds down, and could lead to madness if you actually focused on it; thankfully, it tucks into the background rather effectively.
Stuff is burning, people (and animals) are in danger, and it’s up to you to save the day. That’s the setup for Flame Over, which has you running through randomly generated buildings to douse flames and escort civilians to safety. To accomplish this you’ll need your trusty hose (for wood-based fires), an extinguisher (for electrical flare ups) and some water bombs.
Although this should be a simple formula, things get muddied up by an overall lack of direction, which leads to a lengthy period of fumbling about trying to piece together the best way to play. Getting too close to flames eventually costs health, and upon dying you’re forced to start anew, but the coins earned from extinguishing flames can’t be spent nor can they be carried forward. At least not right away.
Eventually you’ll stumble across Miss Ion, who has misplaced her purse. In the bag is a token that you can use to unlock upgrades that then allow you to spend money. None of this is ever explained, and while it’s fine to present elements through trial and error, it felt out of place to not provide players with a basic overview of the game’s upgrade/finance system.
Taking on the levels themselves is a mixed bag. Putting out fires is not a quick process, and there were times where they’d constantly reignite even as I followed the on-screen prompts as to which device was needed to permanently extinguish them. Refilling your water/extinguisher is painfully slow unless you double back to the entrance, costing you valuable time, and the inability to throw your bombs with any precision makes them too ineffective.
Rescuing people and cats is more of the same as they’ll often stop following you if you get too far ahead or get stuck on something. Since successfully leading people to safety adds a minute to the timer (cats replenish health) it’s frustrating to lose track of them.
Should the timer expire, death will begin to chase you around the level. Is he hard to evade? Not particularly. Should you? Nah. Even though he won’t catch you easily it becomes nearly impossible to fight fires with him on your tail so unless there’s a person readily available to rescue you’re better off cutting your losses rather than wasting time fleeing.
Even as you get a better feel for Flame Over’s mechanics, one thing becomes clear: fire isn’t that compelling a foe, and outside of shooting fireballs and arbitrarily reigniting it’s just… there. With no diversity in the threat and little in the layouts, the game quickly runs out of steam.
Flame Over isn’t poorly made, and it has some redeeming qualities, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t fun or compelling enough to keep replaying the same areas with the same enemy over and over again; an essential quality in a roguelike that requires you to start from scratch each time.