Have you ever been convinced you knew what you were getting into only to sit down and discover something completely different? For me, that was Firegirl. I went into this game thinking I was going to get a standard arcade fighter, and that is very much not what Firegirl is.
Perhaps better stated, Firegirl is an Arcade fighter, but it represents a take on the genre that’s fresh, fun, and sometimes bizarre. While there remain bugs in the gameplay, Firegirl is fresh enough that it’s worth looking past the issues to see the diamond underneath.
In Firegirl, you play the eponymous Firegirl who has become a firefighter, continuing her father’s legacy after the job claims his life. Firegirl has only just begun working when a series of fires begin breaking out across the city, but when Firegirl investigates, you discover that the flames actively attack you. As the game progresses, Firegirl discovers that the flames are controlled by a supernatural critter, and Firegirl must solve the mystery in order to keep the city from burning to the ground. That’s it, but while Firegirl does have RPG elements, they aren’t nearly as interesting as the actual gameplay.
Firegirl works like most roguelike games in the sense that you will adventure through procedurally generated dungeon-levels. In this case, the dungeons are burning buildings that you have to navigate while rescuing trapped civilians, finding clocks, and trying not to die. The goal for most of these missions is to find the exit while rescuing the largest number of civilians, and while that sounds as if the gameplay should be straightforward, let me assure you that each of these buildings was designed by Ivo Shandor to maximize not only the length of the route but also the number of platforms you have to navigate in order to arrive.
The timer makes for an interesting mechanic because it forces players to run through the levels faster than most platformers require. You can extend time on the clock by finding actual clocks, putting out flames using Firegirl’s trusty water hose, but you do need to bear in mind that both the water supply and the amount of pressure the hose can bring to bear have limitations. The pressure issue becomes important because you can use the water hose to propel Firegirl from platform to platform. Because Firegirl uses the water hose as the primary means to defeat flame enemies, resource management plays a pretty significant role in the game.
Firegirl also features a money mechanic in that Firegirl earns money for rescuing civilians and completing stages, and that money can then in turn be used to purchase upgrades that make completing the stages easier. The civilians she rescues may also turn up to the Firehouse as new employees, and these new employees then can sell Firegirl new upgrades. Firegirl loses money any time she dies on a mission, which meant that I personally had exactly zero funds at any point during my playtime.
Firegirl also possesses an ax that she can use to break down doors and carve paths in the various stages, but the ax has a rather long animation associated with its use. There’s nothing you can do to skip the animation, so if you use the ax when Firegirl is surrounded by enemies, the likely end result is a KO. That animation therefore operates less like a feature and more like a bug, and to be frank, Firegirl has more than its fair share of bugs. The procedural generation is prone to spawning enemies in locations such that there’s no way to avoid dying. While deaths do little beyond costing Firegirl money, dying due to a bug or a spawn problem becomes irritating the more often it happens. Perhaps even more frustrating is when a run is just impossible to complete due to either poor object placement or even presenting the player with a challenge that is insurmountable based on the game’s physics.
While I’m loathe to say that one cannot have a procedurally generated platformer, the combination poses some inherent difficulties. Platformers rely on good level design to function, and roguelikes rely on the randomness of procedural generation in order to keep the dungeons fun and interesting. Firegirl attempts to combine the two, but that attempt is far from successful.
Visually, Firegirl is rendered in 2.5 dimensions, so you get sprites meandering through an environment that has some depth to it. While the retro aesthetic works for the game, that aesthetic can also make it more challenging to determine where in relationship to Firegirl a flame enemy is. Despite that problem, the game’s visual charm cannot be overstated. The game also offers a cast of characters that are just entertaining enough that they add flavor to the game without distracting from it. I particularly liked the Fire Chief’s wry brand of humor.
Firegirl is an ambitious game that offers some truly intriguing game mechanics that suffer a little in the execution. However, the game’s overall charm and challenge still make for an entertaining experience, but players should prepare for the bugs. If you’re trying to squeeze in a few runs in a finite amount of time, you should know that a chunk of that playtime could be spent in an unfortunate cycle of dying in order to get a level that you can actually complete. On the best of days, that would be irritating, but when your time is so limited, those issues could become insurmountable. Players should also prepare for somewhat sticky controls, even on PC, and considering that Firegirl is a game that relies on precision, the controls also constitute a major stumbling block.
Despite those issues, I found Firegirl to have enough promise for me to give it a go. I assure you, gentle readers, that in no way was I particularly any good at the game, but I enjoyed it enough that the $17.99 price tag on Steam feels eminently reasonable.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- Seriously, no wonder this town is on fire all the time. Shandor designed these apartment buildings in order to bring about the apocalypse. Clearly.
- Yes, Ivo Shandor is a Ghostbusters reference.
- I particularly loved the design of the flame skulls; they’re really fantastic.