Too Long; Didn't Play: Flame Over

This month is officially Movember on TL;DP. I will be playing games with prominent soup-strainers to raise awareness for prostate cancer and other men's health issues. If you're of a mind, and can spare a few dollars, why not head on over and help spread the health?

Sponsored By: MrTomaytoHead

Time on fire: 61 minutes

This week I join the ranks of the London Fire Department to rescue property, people and handbags from a raging inferno in Flame Over!

Trash Fire Review

A fun, whimsical, lighthearted romp through a blazing nightmare.

Towering Inferno Review

Raise your hand if you played Towering Inferno on the Atari 2600.

Wow. That’s, like, none of you.

Okay, so in the absence of that point of reference, let me rewind a bit. The year is 1982. Tom Sloper and Paul Newell release a non-violent shooter for the Atari 2600 called Towering Inferno, which was a licensed game of the 1974 movie starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. In Towering Inferno you play as a lone fireman with a firehose on a mission to rescue as many people from a burning skyscraper as possible.

Paul Newell made the source code for Towering Inferno available back in 2008, if you want to check it out.

I’m not sure if the folks at Laughing Jackal have played that old Atari classic, but if they didn’t, it’s a remarkable case of parallel inspiration striking decades apart. Flame Over takes the concept of a lone firefighter trying to save a skyscraper from being consumed by flames, and adds a dash of modernity to it.

And by “modernity,” I mean “current fads,” which as of the day I’m writing this review means: Roguelike!

The flaming skyscraper is procedurally generated in Flame Over, so you never save the same rooms twice. As a gameplay element, it makes more sense than other roguelikes. The only thing standing between each burning building and a pile of ash is the firefighter, behind the luxurious mustache, you play in Flame Over. If he fails, the whole building goes with him, so of course each time you play it’s a different building. It’s a justification built right into the premise.

It’s also exceptionally depressing, which just goes to show that video games are like any other piece of entertainment media: Once you start getting all thinky about it, you’ll just ruin all the fun.

I don’t like ruining fun, so I’ll just move on and talk about the mechanics, which certainly are fun. Flame Over is a dual-stick shooter, or I presume it would be if the controller support actually worked on my machine. As it stands I’m playing it with a mouse and keyboard, and that seems to work just fine. You aim your fire hose with the cursor and steer with the trusty WASD keys. Occasionally you’ll need to switch over to the fire extinguisher, because some of the fires were started by those humorless people that think self-igniting birthday candles are a barrel of laughs.

Now, being a fireman isn’t just about saving property. Throughout the levels you’ll find people and cats who need rescuing. They’ll follow you if you tell them to, but don’t move too quick or they’ll fall behind and die.

Again, stop thinking about it. This is supposed to be lighthearted fun, dammit!

But don’t lollygag, because there’s a countdown timer. Once the timer expires, it doesn’t matter how fast you go because the grim reaper will start chasing you all over the level, and there’s ultimately no way to put out fires and run from the anthropomorphic personification of a natural process at the same time. When the reaper claims you, it’s game over and you get sent to the score screen to see how you did.

So far I have yet to progress past level two. Usually I put that sort of thing up to my own inadequacy, but I’m generally pretty good at dual-stick shooters. Flame Over, however, is an excellent example of why procedural level generation balances difficulty. Since every building I enter is a mystery, the frustration I feel at having just died on level two (again!) is mitigated by a sense of discovery. Every time I start a level, it’s new to me. Sure, it means my progress may be aided or gated by some quirk in the algorithms, but I can accept that as just part of the game more easily than I can accept the premise that I have to repeat the same five minute loop a dozen times until I Get It Right. Call it a flaw in my temperament – then at least I will have lots of company.

Flame On?

I’ll keep this one around for a while. It doesn’t quite have that addictive quality that helped Spelunky eat my brain for a year, but it’s well crafted and fun to look at. Plus, maybe if I keep going I can earn enough coins to upgrade my firefighter to get me past level two.

Is it the Devil Daggers of inadvertent remakes?

Yes. Unquestionably. Ten out of ten daggers. Flame Over is a hard game, but it’s hard in a very satisfying, fun way. I recommend it for people who like the kind of challenge that I like.


Hooray! Glad you (mostly) liked it. I had no troubles with my controller, so I have no idea what went wrong for you. I need to pop back in for some non-violent-but-still-depressing shooter action again, too.