Real world fire fighting requires perseverance, and Flame Over, a PlayStation Vita roguelike from British indie Laughing Jackal, demands a similar level of dedication. You control the ironically named Blaze, a London-based fireman with a big hat and a bushy moustache. Your objective is to work your way through the various randomly generated floors of a burning tower block, dousing the inferno while rescuing helpless humans and cats – all while giving the Grim Reaper the slip.
Unsurprisingly, this is hard – really hard. The combustion busting foray remains true to the roguelike genre's roots, and if you don't know what you're getting yourself in for, you will get burned. Dying over and over without making much progress doesn't make for a fun first impression, but persist through the first few hours, and your pressure levels will eventually subside. Indeed, practice makes perfect in this old-school escapade, and it's skill and strategy that will help you to save the day.
And there's certainly a lot to master. Each floor – remember, these are randomly generated – includes a trip switch which you'll need to flip in order to shut off all of the electricity. Fail to do this, and you'll have to contend with electrical fires, which, unless blasted by an extinguisher, will cause the blaze to rage. Once you've done this, you can successfully start clearing out rooms with your trusty hose, wetting the ground to prevent flames from spreading between objects.
There are certainly some arcade liberties taken here – fire spits in order to scatter swifter – but the way that objects ignite is somewhat realistic, and quite an achievement on handheld hardware. As such, you'll need to clear out rooms quickly and thoroughly if you intend to be efficient, otherwise an entire area will be engulfed in flames before you can dial 999. It's this combination of speed and precision that makes the title so challenging at first – but also so rewarding when it clicks.
You have five minutes to clear a floor of all fire, but rescuing stranded humans will add a minute to your clock. There are also cats that you'll need to carry out for additional health, while the immovable Miss Ion [Groan – Ed] sets you specific tasks to complete before she'll follow you to safety. These are often utterly ridiculous – such as nabbing her handbag or posting a few letters – but reward you with tokens, which can then be spent on permanent upgrades.
As a roguelike, you'll lose most of your progress with each run, but, clearly taking a few cues from Rogue Legacy, the developer's tossed in a handful of permanent upgrades, too. These give you an incentive to keep playing, and enable you to withstand more fire or revive fallen survivors. The really neat thing is that once you've unlocked a particular perk with tokens, you can then spend the cash earned in your previous run to increase its potency, eventually making progression much easier.
And this means that two minute rescue missions will eventually turn into full hour long marathons, with four different environments to explore. We'll hold our hands up and reveal that we didn't quite have the chops to unlock them all while writing this review, but it's perhaps to the package's credit that we're eager to return to the release and see if we can do better. The environments that we did see, however, each pose different challenges, and add some visual variety to boot.
Speaking of which, the presentation is far from outstanding, but it has a Clip Art kind of low-budget charm to it. Rooms are always well furnished with pictures, plants, and workstations – but the repetition of assets can begin to grate. The user interface is excellent, however, conveying a lot of information – such as water stocks, temperature, objectives, and more – in a relatively small space. Meanwhile, the music, which employs lots of horn-based melodies, is fitting, too.
It's just a shame that it takes so long to appreciate it. Without a tutorial, and with many helpful gameplay aids consigned to an expensive in-game shop – which carries random, one run only goods – this will test your patience at first. Simpler levels with a softer ramp could have made this much more accessible, but the studio would perhaps argue that forming your own strategies is part of the fun. We're not sure, but we do know that the game's red hot once you get beyond the hump.
You'll need real perseverance to get the most out of Flame Over, but once you get to grips with the game, it'll grow on you like an out-of-control inferno. Packing plenty of replay value, this is hard to put down once you straddle its early hurdles – and while we're not convinced that everyone will be willing to put the work in, the few that do will be fighting fires for some time.