Don’t leave any cats behind in the inferno
Genre: Action, Platformer
Developer: Deepnight Games
Publisher: Deepnight Games
Release date: 18 Oct, 2021
Sébastien Bénard made quite a name for himself with his work on the excellent roguelite Dead Cells. With deeply satisfying combat, tough but fair gameplay and a lot of content Dead Cells was one of the best games of 2017.
Nuclear Blaze is not Dead Cells though, and it never claims to be. If you go into Nuclear Blaze expecting a game as big and complex as Dead Cells you’ll be disappointed, instead this is a short 2D platformer where you play as a firefighter trying to navigate your way through a mysterious military base that somehow has managed to catch fire.
Story & Setting
You’re a firefighter who’s being airdropped into a remote area to deal with an out of control fire. As you’re working yourself through the blazing inferno you quickly stumble upon a mysterious military base, one that’s on no maps, and from which the fire seem to originate. Now it’s your job to extinguish the fires and figure out what is going on.
Nuclear Blaze is not a game that puts a huge emphasis on its story, but there’s a bit more to it than might first meet the eye. As you make your way through the military base you’ll find notes hinting at work being done on something weird, something that is on fire and can’t be extinguished. Seemingly everyone in the base are dead, save for a few cats, though what they are doing in a place like this you don’t know.
Nuclear Blaze is a pretty good looking game. It uses a simple but effective art style with characters (the ones that matters at least) having large heads and small bodies, that are remarkably expressive despite their faces not being visible, and the game is not shy about mixing in some varied colours in the backgrounds. There’s also a decent amount of variety to the environments, despite the limited setting. Most impressive though is the lighting which is used both to convey the fact that you’re in a burning underground base, and also to communicate important gameplay information.
The games soundtrack is also pretty solid, though it’s not so good that you’re likely to listen to it on its own, or remember it years after playing through the game. It’s just a soundtrack that works well with the game. The sound effects are also good, and helps give the gameplay a more satisfying feel, which is exactly what sound effects should do in a game like this.
Nuclear Blaze is a linear 2D platformer with a slight twist. Instead of jumping on, stabbing or shooting enemies you’re a firefighter who need to put out fires. Fighting fires is quite different from fighting slobbering space aliens though, as fires won’t try to actively kill you, it will just be spreading to anything flammable around it, and if you don’t take care of it quickly it will get out of control. The fire won’t actually destroy anything though, it’s just in a way, and you need to put it out in order to progress.
The little firefighter you control is not helpless. For a person wearing a water tank on his back, bulky clothing and an oversized helmet, they’re surprisingly agile, and can jump pretty high and far, roll and climb ladders unhindered. The tank on their back allows them to shoot a stream of water at anything around them, though the water supply is not unlimited and needs to be refilled ever so often. Overall the main character is a joy to control, and this is where you can most feel the Dead Cells connection, as that game also had really tight controls.
You don’t start with all the powers though, but through the game you’ll find upgrades that improve your capabilities. At first you can just move, jump and shoot water left and right, but soon you’ll get the ability to shoot water in different directions, and later also the ability to roll out of harm’s way. This is not a metroidvania though, and these upgrades are not missable, unless you intentionally do something wonky, nor are they used to unlock new and previously unreachable areas.
Your main enemy is fire. Touching it will hurt you and shooting water at it will extinguish it. The fire is not sentient, as you would expect from a literal fire, and won’t try to directly interfere with you, but it does spread pretty quickly and can make traversing the level dangerous if you’re not dealing with it. If you extinguish most of the fires but leave a small smoldering patch then the fire will quickly spread back to any areas that you previously extinguished. As the game progresses you’ll also encounter other hazards, like electricity. Also, bashing open a door that there’s a big fire behind can be quite dangerous as the backdraft can end up shooting a huge jet of fire out the door.
The environment is not just your enemy, it can be your friend as well, as you can activate sprinklers to help put out the fire, and puddles of water can help contain it. These could be more strategic in their use though, as most of the time you’ll just want to turn on any sprinklers you can find. They stay on indefinitely and prevent the fire from spreading back into the area. There are also secret areas scattered through the levels, usually containing cats that you can save (and what monsters would not save cats from a blazing inferno if they could?).
A special mention needs to be given to the difficulty selection, it’s very customizable. You don’t just have the standard easy, medium and hard settings that we’ve all grown accustomed to over the years, instead you can tailor your level of difficulty with several different options. You can increase the range which you shoot water, how many hits you can take before you die, how much water you’ll carry and how fast the fire spreads. The fast spreading fire has a big impact on how hard the game is, but with it turned off Nuclear Blaze is not a particularly difficult game, even if everything is set to the hardest setting.
Apart from the main game mode there’s also a “kid’s mode”, which the developer designed for his 3 year old son. This game mode really is meant for small children, as there’s next to no challenge to it, and all you do is save kittens. The controls are also greatly simplified in this mode, and the levels are very straight forward. A small child will probably find it fun, but even someone older than 6 will probably end up thinking it’s far too easy.
Nuclear Blaze is a fun and straight forward 2D platformer that looks good and has great controls. It is short though. Someone with a moderate amount of platforming experience will probably be able to beat it in under 2 hours. If that’s worth 9€/$10 I’ll leave up to you, but what’s here is at least quite good, and there’s a bit of replay value in trying to find all the cats.
The kid mode is a nice little bonus, but if you’re old enough to read this review, it’s not for you. There’s also not a lot of kid mode levels, so it’s not worth getting the game for that on its own, but if you have very young children, and are interested in this game to begin with, then that’s a nice little addition.