If there's one gaming trend that has been noticeably on the rise over the past two years, it's the resurgence of difficulty in its purest form. From the skill-based approach of Dark Souls' combat to the exponential rise in popularity of roguelikes, it's more evident than ever that gamers want to be challenged. One of the latest games to step forward wearing its difficulty on its sleeves is Flame Over.
Developed by Laughing Jackal, Flame Over is the latest roguelike to make its way onto the portable screen of the PlayStation Vita. Rather than taking on the fantasy aesthetic that has become almost synonymous with the genre, Flame Over casts players as moustachioed firefighter Blaze Carruthers. Equipped with his trusty ax and hose, Carruthers must race through the blazing inferno of Infernal Industries as he saves lives and puts out any fire along the way.
In simplest terms, Flame Over plays like a cross between Spelunky and Rogue Legacy with a dash of twin-stick shooter thrown in. With roots steeped in years of fiendishly devious roguelikes, this journey through Infernal Industries is no walk in the park. Flame Over is a deceptively difficult game that doesn't hesitate to punish the player, but it is one that feels constantly rewarding.
At its core, Flame Over plays like a traditional twin-stick shooter with a twist. When the player is not firing their water hose or extinguisher, the right stick turns the camera. The second they begin firing one of their armaments, the game locks into traditional twin-stick mode. Despite being a subtle change and one that takes time to adjust to, it quickly becomes apparent just how efficient this mode of control is, and as a result it makes one wonder why it hasn't been used more in the past.
The game's slick and responsive controls are complemented by cartoony graphics that highlight everything of note around the player and a musical score that - while simple - matches the game's frantic pace. Flame Over is not a game that sets out to dazzle its players. Instead, it ensures that everything is functional and works well toward a cohesive end.
Players will find Infernal Industries split into four distinct themed zones ranging from offices to laboratories with four randomly generated floors comprising each. While players simply need to douse all the fire on a floor in order to move on to the next, there is a timer at the top of the screen that continually ticks away. Upon reaching zero, the grim reaper makes its grand entrance ala Spelunky's ghost, meaning certain death should it touch Blaze. This sense of urgency is what drives the challenge of Flame Over. Every second counts and can only be replenished by rescuing trapped civilians.
This is where fire enters the fray. The fire that has overtaken Infernal Industries acts as a wholly unpredictable variable. From electrical fires that continually spawn flames to back-drafts that fill a room with an uncontrollable inferno, players will likely spend their early time with the game cursing its randomness. Falling into the Spelunky school of thought, though, each failure provides a new opportunity to learn. The game's environments are made up of distinct materials that react differently to different types of hazards and fire. Almost everything in the game has a tell that can be counteracted. Like any roguelike worth its salt, there is still a degree of randomness that can doom players, but in the end, almost every obstacle is surmountable given a bit of patience and observance.
This is perhaps Flame Over's biggest strength. Like the fire that repeatedly finds itself creeping into previously safe rooms, this is a game that grows on the player. At first glance, it can make sense to cry foul at the game's unpredictable and seemingly random nature but with each subsequent play-through, things begin to click. While it may present itself as a twitchy twin-stick shooter on the surface, the game rewards players who approach situations with a level head and opt to think strategically.
Aiding players who stick with the game is a persistent upgrade system that can be augmented with tokens accumulated through completing missions in-game. These upgrades can be leveled up with the cash not spent in the in-game store. While some of the upgrades can be beneficial to the player, the majority of them act as little more than distractions once the player has spent enough time inside Infernal Industries.
In this way, the game's upgrades offer little motivation to truly pursue them. It would have been interesting to see a more fleshed-out upgrade system that focused on providing the player with more utility as their time with the game increased. Outside of learning the game's mechanics and reacting to oncoming hazards more efficiently, Blaze will be largely the same character upon victory as he was at the outset.
For some, this lack of tangible progression outside of increasingly difficult levels could be a turn-off. Coupled with a difficulty curve that requires the player organically learn from their surroundings and past experiences, Flame Over is not a game for everyone. Having launched the same day as Hotline Miami 2, this indie Vita offering has some stiff competition (check out our review).
Regardless, Flame Over is a game that successfully nails the rewarding feeling of learning from one's surroundings in order to overcome new obstacles. It will certainly not appeal to every gamer, but those looking for a fresh take on the ever-growing roguelike and twin-stick shooter genres should definitely give Flame Over a chance.
Will you be picking up Flame Over in order to sate your roguelike hunger? What changes to the roguelike formula would you like to see in the future?
Flame Over is available now for the PlayStation Vita and will be releasing at a yet-to-be-determined date on PS4 and Steam. Game Rant was provided a Vita download code for this review.