Fire and Rescue (NES Indie Review)

Yea, it only took me to the second installment of New Arcade Mondays to wildly stretch the definition of “New Arcade” but hear me out. The launch-window NES library, AKA the thirty Black Box games, were all basically arcade games at home. If an indie developer wanted to make an authentic Black Box-type game, the only way to make it convincing is to have a tunnel-visioned arcade concept. One novel play mechanic that the whole game is based around. It’s tougher than it sounds. Actually, the most common mistake made by games that try to recreate the look and feel of Black Box releases is being too ambitious in their gameplay. The most advanced game in that series is the original Super Mario Bros. If you’re going to make a platformer, skip that Black Box malarkey, because you won’t stand out in that genre if you don’t go bonkers. For all other developers, if you want authenticity, you have to keep it simple. Of course, that also means you’re married to one gameplay mechanic, and if that mechanic isn’t very fun or exciting, you’re kind of screwed.

“Fire and Rescue? Wasn’t that one of the Fisher Price games?” Actually, no. I was thinking of Fisher-Price: Firehouse Rescue.

Fire and Rescue.. actually FIRE AND RESCUE in all-caps like you’re yelling it, but I think it’s a crime to yell “FIRE AND RESCUE” in a crowded review blog.. does authentically feel like an NES Black Box game in terms of graphics and gameplay. Well, sort of. It uses realistic 2D logic of, gasp.. having to actually walk through the threshold of the building you’re entering! So in this game universe, there’s genuine architecture to buildings. When this review is done, you’ll understand why most games toss that kind genuine logic out the window. The object is to put out all the fires and rescue people trapped inside the houses. There’s five levels that keep repeating while slightly escalating in difficulty every time you restart the cycle until you reach Level 7, at which point it just keeps going back to stage 71 until you get bored. Don’t worry, you’ll already be bored and ready for it to be over by that point.

Do you know what breaks the illusion of being an authentic lost Black Box game? Had this been a real Black Box, that would have totally been Mario fighting the fires.

While I admire the authenticity Skyboy Games achieved, Fire and Rescue is a complete snoozer. This is mostly due to the constant need to weave in and out of the building to refill your water. If you correctly line yourself up with the fires and time your release perfectly, you can stretch the water out, but you’ll still need to refill. Thankfully, you can jump out windows without dying as a shortcut. It’s the only concession the game really makes to avoid the busy-work. You can only rescue one person at a time, and when you do, you have to bring them all the way back to the start of the stage. I couldn’t believe they didn’t include more means to enter the building. Even after playing thirty levels, I was convinced I was just doing something wrong when I tried to enter through the bottom right window of levels. Apparently you can’t. Plus, these are buildings that don’t have fire escapes being fought by fireman who don’t have fire hoses or fire ladders. Maybe this was set in the 1920s?

Stage 4 and 5 on each level has the water source on the opposite side of the screen, for even more winding-around. Sigh. Also, note the the bottom of water left of the center in this pic.

Sometimes rescuing a person also gives you a water refill. But, the refill spawns where they had been in the stage, and only after you’ve dropped the person off at the ambulance. In three of the five stages, the hydrant is right there anyway. It’d be nice to leave the refill there so you can grab it as needed later, but the only stage you might want to do that, it appears right in a door frame, where there’s no means to jump over it. Only in the two stages where the hydrant is on the other side of the screen do the water refills provide any real usage. But, in those stages, they’re practically laid-out in a way where it’s impossible to miss them. You’re going to have to rescue the first guy, then it’s going to spawn the refill. It’s also possible I was just plain good at this game. So, the item is functionally useless. The whole refill system and the way it was implemented seem to have been a decision made only in service to the co-op mode that I didn’t play. Also, it’s not always a refill. Sometimes, the rescue will spawn a helmet that restores you hit point if you’ve lost it, or give you points if you haven’t. And.. that’s the whole game. As a single player experience, there’s absolutely zero excitement or tension in Fire and Rescue. None.

The closest it comes to that would be the timer. Unless you’re really taking your sweet time, it doesn’t matter early on. Eventually, as in after several cycles of the same five stages, the timer starts low enough that you’ll be tidying up the final aspects of the stage with twenty or so seconds left. Tense? Well, no. I have no problem with recycling stages, but the peril of doing so is players should be able to quickly figure out how much time it takes in each stage to get from Point A to Point B. By the point where levels had a shorter timer, I’d played the stages enough times that I knew how much time I needed, and I knew I’d be fine. And I was! Even playing extremely recklessly, I never came closer to timing-out than in the above clip. This really compounds the biggest issue: the gameplay feels like busy-work after a while. The one-at-a-time rescue situation could mean that, after you’ve put out all the fires, you have to grab one of the people, jump out a window, then return to the building, weave your way through it to the last person, and jump out the window again. It becomes less a game and more of a chore. Gremlins on Atari 5200 had the same “run out of action before you run out of objectives” issue, but at least there the gameplay was fun before the action ran out. Fire and Rescue is a game that is technically fine and works but just plain isn’t fun.

See what I mean? The fire is all out, but I still have to make my way through the whole level, going up a ladder, a room left, up a ladder, two rooms over, down two ladders, grab the guy, then jump out the window and walk the length of the screen. For god’s sake: didn’t anyone issue this firehouse a frick’n axe? We’re fire fighters dog garn it, and we’re allowed to chop through people’s houses to rescue them! It’s heroic destruction!

Fire and Rescue needed to do a lot more than it does. There’s a downward spurt move that I never even needed to use once and I still could breeze right through the levels. I don’t even know what the point of it was. For a moment I was like “oh, this is how you jump up through the window to get into the building and save time.” But that’s apparently not the case either. It’s also actually a pretty easy game. After a cycle or two, one of the fires in a stage will start spitting projectiles at you, but the spitting rate is slow enough that it just becomes a minor annoyance. The only life I lost was from not scooting backwards to give myself enough clearance from a fire after climbing up a ladder. As far as I can tell, there’s no ticking clock element with the people you’re rescuing. Sometimes they appear to be standing right in a fire, but I could still take my time getting to them. This really should have removed the “deliver the people” element and just had the homeowners vanish when you collect them. Turn Fire and Rescue into a puzzle game based on conserving resources or a more action-oriented game where the fires can kill the people and spread more aggressively. Apparently this was made mostly for score chasing in mind, but as an NES game (one that you can literally order as a physical cart) there’s no online leaderboards, so what’s the point? Besides, if a player can make it to level seven without dying, it’s unlikely their game would end at all. Don’t get me wrong: Fire and Rescue isn’t atrocious by any means. It’s just boring. How do you even make fire boring? That shouldn’t be possible!

Fire and Rescue is not Chick-Approved

Fire and Rescue was developed by Skyboy Games
Point of Sale: Itch.io, NES Cartridge
$5 died in a fire in the making of this review.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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