In a week that Hotline Miami 2 comes out, it would be really easy to put Laughing Jackal’s Flame Over on the backburner. Laughing Jackal have built up a reputation of putting out fun, solid games for our favourite handheld, but can Flame Over compete with the neon tinged brutality of Hotline Miami 2? Hell yes. And talking of brutality? You have no idea what you’re in for. But you know what they say – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
In Flame Over, you star as Blaze, a firefighter up against a seemingly never ending set of fires. I suppose with a name like Blaze, he was always destined to be a firefighter. His only other option was to probably become a horse in the Grand National. I digress. The premise itself appears to be a very simple one. Pretty much every room in your randomly generated floor is engulfed in flames. Put them all out with your hose and extinguisher and you can move onto the next stage. There are 4 levels in the game: the Lobby, Executive, Labs and Factory. Each one has 4 stages and as you can guess each new floor brings with it a host of new challenges. You have 5 minutes on the clock to put out all the fires and make it to the Fire Exit to start the next stage. At first it seems virtually impossible, and make no mistake about it, Flame Over is brutally hard at times. But throughout the tension and frustration, the game always maintains its fairness. It may not feel like it, especially when you’re restarting after the 30th time of not progressing, but there are actually many opportunities to not get burnt to a crisp. Firstly, there are various people to save. For every one you safely lead back to the fire exit, you will gain an extra minute. There’s also a cat located on each stage, and these gain you an extra heart, and save the cat from becoming a kebab. Also scattered around are pick me ups of water bombs, extra pieces of time and so on. Not only that, but Laughing Jackal have also made it that even if you run out of time, you’re not toast. You will however have to try and finish the stage with the Grim Reaper following you around, and he’s not easy to shake.
The fires can be horrendous. Seriously, even a pyromaniac would think this was overkill. I’m talking a serious pain in the arson. Some go out nicely with the hose, but some spit out heart damaging fireballs at you and all those around you. You also have to deal with electrical fires, which reignite if not dealt with properly. Your best bet by far is to find the fuse box. Cut the power off and it’ll stop these reigniting and save you a load of time. By the time you reach the labs though, the room with the fuse box will feel miles away, with a wall of flames standing in your way. Suddenly hallways get longer, and everything slowly starts to get more difficult. It’s a pressure cooker. You’ll want your hand held while you’re playing on your handheld. But you know what? You’ll love the pain. It’s so tense. And the line between risking everything for reward is so thin. Take Miss Ion. She is a character who provides you with a mission. The clue’s in her name. But what do you do? Do you complete her mission, gaining a token to upgrade your equipment? What if you run out of time? You’ve got some decisions to make. The easiest decision you’ve got to make however is whether you should buy Flame Over.
Have you ever heard the expression ‘painfully addictive’? Flame Over is literally that. At one point, I’d been on it for hours, I’d ran through a whole battery charge, and my thumb was genuinely hurting. You play with fire and you’re gonna get burned I guess. I just couldn’t stop. I had to self impose a break. And the only reason I did that was because I wanted to make sure I could play it for hours the next day. Flame Over is Laughing Jackal’s best game. Without a doubt. You can tell this has had huge amounts of hours put into it. The visuals, the music, the ideas – it all adds up to a brilliant Vita encounter. If you look at Flame Over and see a cutesy little game about putting out fires then you’ve failed to see the intricacies and the subtleties on show in the gameplay. This is Spelunky dowsed in gasoline. This is Nethack with a lit fuse under it. I think one of the reasons it is so addictive is going back to my point about fairness. Even if you die, you still collect coins from every fire you put out. Provided you’ve completed enough Miss Ion errands, you’re able to upgrade to make your next run a shade easier. Simply put, you’re not firing blanks. It’s these little touches that keep you coming back. Throw in Leaderboards, a shiny Platinum to go for and stacks of replayability and you’ve got a firecracker of a game that is truly firing on all cylinders.
If you put enough time into Flame Over, you and your Vita will get on like a house on fire. It’s a tough but hugely rewarding experience that amounts to one of the best Vita releases around. Feel the burn!
Punk rating: 9/10