The Firemen - An SNES Game About Firemen
Personifying fire is a bit like poetry talking about love. It's inevitable, frequently done, and impossible to miss in nearly every form of media.
What The Fireman for the Super Nintendo does differently is personifying the fire in such a way that it appears as a practical enemy. To the point where The Firemen is nearly indistinguishable from other top-down action games of the same type. Other titles come to mind like The Legend of Zelda or Terranigma.
Which almost feels like a crimson slash for the game. With average graphics, and unusual story, and nothing too remarkable in terms of technical aspects, the game can't really stand with its head held high. The secret to this game lies in the little things, and the little things manage to amount to a lot.
The graphic work is highly stylized, and bears a remarkable resemblance to Robotek. The Super Nintendo is capable of more than the game puts out, and what effects appear are rather minimal, almost trying a little too hard to keep itself cartoony. The sprites themselves are large, without a lot of detail, and connecting the sprites to the faces in the dialog boxes is impossible at a glance. For the size of the sprites, there really should be more detail. Disregarding that hiccup, the fire effects are simple and uncluttered, and really let the player know what they should be extinguishing, and what they should be saving. This is more than enough for the purpose of gameplay, but the lack of polish on the interface and sprites really is disappointing. Especially given the limited number of graphical effects throughout the game's duration.
Because it isn't that long. The entire game is five stages, which is completed in about an hour (depending on player skill and speed). Although, given that the game is much like an arcade, it couldn't be too much longer. Especially considering there is no native way to save progress. This setup works well given the pace of the game, and the number of continues really challenges the player to practice the mechanics hard enough to progress through the end. Further bolstered by the difficulty, which is set pretty high. Even gamers have to flex their gaming muscles to progress a considerable amount in-game.
Moreso since the game limits itself to 2 continues. Despite that, it's never difficult enough to be frustrating, and if anything else, is disarming enough to gently scold the player for failing rather than forcing the player into fits of controller-snapping rage. If anything, this game has the best kind of difficulty, which is the kind that taxes the player's ability patiently, in a brisk, well paced, and charming way.
Though the charm sometimes manages to cripple itself given the slow story-telling. The game has a story, which while simplistic, tends to involve a lot of dialog. This dialog is well-translated and really characterizes the protagonists and the setting well. It would be good, except for that the game is so short. Coupled with the difficulty, multiple playthroughs will involve a lot of repeated dialog, which is slow to progress and completely unchanging. It's a frustration, though by no means is it game-breaking. Frustration aside, the story is naturally compelling, if not occasionally unexplained. While it's not perfect, it's far from bad, and even welcome considering the alternative to no story at all. Though it would have benefited from a skip button.
Problems arise, though, where The Firemen personifies the fire. The fire itself doesn't act as fire. It's not slow-moving, or spreads out in all directions. It's monstrous, to the point where it is exactly alike monsters. It follows movement patterns like snakes, or sparks through the air not at all unlike bats, or any number of things. There are even boss fires.
Let that one sink in: Boss fires.
Fires that act as major bosses. So massive that they withstand steady streams of industrial-strength water for minutes at a time, move around with sentience, fling fireballs at the protagonists, dodge water streams, but do not spread organically. If anything, the whole game suffers from this personification of fires as living creatures. It takes a lot of disbelief suspension to get by this particular quirk, but like many other flaws, is only a minor quibble.
This game manages despite these things, and excepting strange behavior from the elements, is remarkably fun. The earlier mentions to The Legend of Zelda and Terranigma were as much compliments as they were statements. If a game, about firemen, can be as stand out, amazing, and highly praised as The Legend of Zelda, is a game that does it right. The line between "homage" and "rip-off" is often decided by the quality of the game, and if this game is any indication, there's nothing wrong with being alike another title. Especially when it's done so well. It's a game that not only endures, but excels. As much for its flaws as for its victories, and a game that's so remarkably humble about it, it somehow flies completely under the radar.
It's hard not to applaud The Firemen for everything it does right, and even the things it does wrong. Stamp collectors know that it's a flaw that makes something valuable. For a game so quiet and meek, it's a rather powerful statement. Which is really such a good statement for The Firemen. It's wonderful, it's amazing, it's simple, and it's fun. For what it's worth, it's a gem, and certainly something worth experiencing. Frustrations, flaws, and all.