Flame Over Review (PS Vita)
With a superficially simple look and premise but deceptive depth, Flame Over falls broadly in line with the other releases we’ve seen so far from Laughing Jackal. It’s a bright, cheery game with a seriously challenging core. In this case, that core nugget of challenging gameplay comes from it’s Rogue-Like nature. When you die in Flame Over, you start all over again, albeit with some cash to spend on upgrades.
If your first impressions match mine then your first hour or so with Flame Over will be frustrating and pretty unsatisfying. It’s a spectacularly unambitious game visually, with chunky, basic cartoon characters of the type you see a lot of in budget Vita titles. In particular, it looks a lot like When Vikings Attack!, albeit even more bland. The generic, middle of the road cartoon style is at least clear and inoffensive, but with some very unsatisfying water and fire effects (which should really have been where the artists spent their time), no ones going to be desperate to play Flame Over based on its look. You can’t help but wish they had aimed for any sort of distinctive art style.
As you progress, the underwhelming visuals will be the least of your concerns. Poorly explained game mechanics conspire to frustrate. Using a twin stick control method, you have two types of extinguisher, water and… the other one. CO2? Anyway, it’s never clear which you should be using on each fire. After many hours of experimentation, I THINK you use the water on the floor and the other one on smoking wood and desks and shelves. You’re often prompted to use a particular extinguisher in a particular area, but there seems little rational between which one the game tells you to use.
It’s also initially unclear what you are supposed to do, other than put out all the fires. Run through flaming areas to save civilians and lead them to the exit? This seems to be important, and doing so extends your time limit, but I was never quite sure if I was best to slowly push the fire back to get to them, or run straight through to save them before they burned.
There are other goals that I think are supposed to be funny, but end up just being baffling. I think you’re supposed to search the environment to find a red handbag for a lady called “Miss Ion”. I just don’t really…
A mish-mash of poorly explained gameplay mechanic make Flame Over genuinely puzzling. There’s a feeling that Laughing Jackal threw a whole bunch of ideas from their favourite games into a bucket and mixed them up without considering the theme or cohesion of the resulting mess. For example, when your time runs out, you get chased around the map by a reaper. So like Spelunky, right? Only the reaper isn’t very fast, so you can outpace it for a long, long time, dragging out your play session. With this creature chasing you, you’re unlikely to complete the level as he will stop you from fighting fires, but he’s easy to avoid so your death is drawn out and pointless. Instead of being a shadow figure of imminent doom and pushing you along like in Spelunky, he is a frustrating, game ruining event. Instead of feeling panic, you’ll probably just give up and let him catch you rather than run around for ten minutes of useless play time.
A number of other serious issues with the gameplay negate any potential fun. The mini-map shows only the area that you are in. The area that you can already see and don’t need a map for. Meanwhile, the main map stops you from moving rather than acting as an overlay, which would have actually been helpful. Meanwhile, the area where you can fill up your water tanks are so very, very slow that you should never use them. Instead, it is always faster to return to the start of the level and use the main water system to instantly refill your tanks.
And to put a final nail in the coffin, the controls are a pain. The right stick controls your water or CO2 spray, but also spins the camera. When you are spraying the camera will lock but will spin again when you stop spraying. And if you want to throw a water bomb, you do it with a face button, meaning you can’t aim it with the right stick as you have to remove your thumb.
Perhaps most annoying of all though, the upgrade screen seems to require a combination of tokens and money to unlock items. With no prices on the items though, you can’t tell what you can afford or if you’re doing something wrong. I clicked around the upgrade screen in complete confusion as I struggled to understand how much of which currencies I needed to upgrade anything. Perhaps if I had some target to aim for I would have kept playing a bit longer, with a vague idea that grinding through the missions might be helping me progress in some fashion.
Or not. Glaring flaws aside, Flame Over just isn’t much fun. With just one enemy (poorly modeled fire), effectively one weapon and a whole bucket of poorly explained, poorly chosen gameplay ideas, Flame Over is a real disappointment. Game over.
1.4 flaming husks out of 5Flame Over Review (PS Vita),