Ah, a game based around the wholesome pursuits of an arsonist. What could be better or more family friendly? Well, luckily, in Arsonist Heaven at least, the arsonist in question has a good reason for indulging his pyro talents. I’m sure there is a way to work a “twisted firestarter” joke in here somewhere…
Anyway, it comes from an unlikely collaboration between two giants of the “cheap games with easy achievements” genre – Eastasiasoft and Ratalaika Games – with Arsonist Heaven being the end result. Want to come with me to the world of a man whose actual job is to be a firestarter, a twisted firestarter? Nailed it.
Now, there is a story to Arsonist Heaven but to call it somewhat lightweight would be an insult to lightweight games everywhere. It appears that there has been some sort of event, and as a result there are areas that now have nasty creatures roaming about in them. And since flapping your arms and shouting “Shoo” doesn’t seem to cut it, you have been issued with a flamethrower, a flame resistant suit and a jetpack. It’s here where we are sent into a series of hazardous environments, crawling with enemies, left to kill them all. With fire.
Given the origins of Arsonist Heaven, it should come as no surprise to learn that the presentation of the game is very much on the retro end of the scale, with graphics that would look at home on a Super Nintendo or Sega Mega Drive. The enemies are unpleasant to look at, so you don’t mind setting their various asses on fire, and the protagonist looks suitably tooled up with a natty line in yellow biohazard suits. There’s not much to the soundtrack though, at least not besides the roar of monsters, the noise of a flamethrower, and the somewhat incongruous sound of a werewolf attacking – which sounds for all the world like you’re getting licked by a puppy. All in all, presentation wise at least, all is as you’d expect from a game that comes from the Eastasiasoft and Ratalaika combo.
But how about the actual gameplay? The main thing that separates the good games from the also ran titles? Well, it’s not brilliant news here, to be brutally honest. First off, I have to mention a good thing, and that is the design of the achievements. Normally, in this type of game, you’ll have got all the achievements by the time you have finished the first level, but Arsonist Heaven bucks that trend. Here, you have to actually finish the first twelve levels to get all the achievements, and that is a lot easier said than done, believe me.
This level of difficulty has less to do with the design of the game and rather more to do with the controls that you are tasked with using. The basics are fine: you run about with the left stick, the A button shoots your current weapon of choice, and X reloads when it is empty. However, it is the jetpack that causes the most issues, and they sadly seem insurmountable. Let me explain. The levels themselves are a discrete series of side scrolling arenas, viewed from a firmly 2D perspective; as such you can run about, and jump and boost to get higher. Great, all good. However, most of the levels also have a section of the map that is underground, whilst there are also secret sections of each level to find. It is here that the wheels of the jetpack fall off, so to speak. Trying to get your guy to make meaningful forward progress while boosting is hard enough in an open area, while in an enclosed area, he will bounce off the roof, usually straight into whatever pit you were trying to avoid. To be honest, it is so badly designed – the whole jumping mechanic – that it pretty much ruins the whole game.
There are other issues too, like the patrol routes of any foe that are set in stone, and so if you stand even one pixel outside their range, they won’t try and attack, turning away despite being able to sneeze on you. This makes killing the creatures an absolute breeze. Blast, wait, blast, wait, rinse and repeat and everything will die.
The only exceptions are the bosses, which bring new issues, such as an entire lack of feeling when you are getting damaged, resulting in every death almost coming as a surprise; the controller sat in your hands like a numb piece of plastic as you’re left to pick up and carry on. In all honesty, by the time the first boss goes down at the end of level five, you may well have just about had enough of Arsonist Heaven.
The only real bright spot is that you are encouraged to explore the levels, not only to make sure no baddies are skulking in remote corners, but in order to gather up more ammunition, and if you are really lucky, an upgrade to the flamethrower itself. My personal favourite is called the plasma cannon, and while it only fires a single blast at a time, it is much more powerful, killing some enemies in a single shot. If it doesn’t, however, you are left with an awkward pause before it will fire again, which is usually the opening an enemy needs to ruin your whole day.
It all means that Arsonist Heaven has some good ideas, but it really could do with a bit more care being spent on the traversal mechanics. As it is, it is more annoying than fun, and rather than being a twisted firestarter, it is more of a damp squib. Avoid, would be my advice.
Arsonist Heaven is available on the Xbox Store