Coming from Ivan Zanotti’s MyMadnessWorks is a new entry in the retro-styled platformer genre – Firework. Now, as is usually the case with these games, the Mega Man series of games are held up as inspiration, but this can be a bit of a double-edged sword. If you are going to compare your product to a game that is acknowledged as being at the top of the tree, you’d better make sure that you bring your A-game. So, has this happened? Is Firework fit to be mentioned in the same breath as the mighty Mega Man?
Yan, the character we play as, has a very boring job. In the facility that he works within (that’s as much background as we get, story fans!) there are a series of black blobs, with eyes, that need to be kept on their “supports”. When they decide to go for a little walk, it’s Yan’s job to find them and put them back; it is this which forms the game’s tutorial, in effect. However, one day everything changes, and when Yan descends into the bowels of the facility to see what is happening, he finds the place ablaze, with various enemies standing about chatting. They instruct Yan to stand aside, and when he refuses, he is described as “defective” and told he will be destroyed. And thus Firework opens.
So, it’s now time for business as usual. Yan, as he stands at the start, has a gun that can be used to put out flames and also kill the Flame Troops – the creatures seemingly made of living flame that wander about the place. He also has a handy line in jumps, wall jumps, and dashes, either in mid-air to extend his jump, or on the ground to either avoid damage or close distance with an enemy quickly. Everything is straight out of the Big Book of Platform Games Cliches: platforms, spikes, hidden areas and bosses as you go through.
The game also looks the part for a retro-styled platformer, with Yan rocking a Mega Man clone vibe with a spiky hat on, the enemies being pixelated flames for the most part, and the black blobs that we are supposed to be protecting appearing in the hidden sections of the levels. Picking these guys up grants Yan some power-ups, such as an extra Air Dash move, and so they are worth hunting for. And boy is hunting the right word, as a black blob against a black background is pretty hard to spot. Look for the eyes, is my pro tip. The sound is perfectly serviceable too, as the flame sound effects are pretty cool, but the music is very much on the forgettable end of the scale.
In addition to the single player campaign, Firework does pick up a good mark for the inclusion of a co-op mode. This works as an Endless mode, and sees you and a partner trying to get through a series of rooms, full of spikes, traps and fire. The screen is divided into two, vertically, and then you have to go through, without getting confused as to who is who (easier said than done), picking up the various blobs about the place. Once you reach the end of the current room, you are teleported to the next, and the process begins again. There are some nice co-op sections included, where one person has to stand on a switch to open a door for the other player; these sections are actually quite good fun. However, it isn’t long before issues start to raise their heads.
Games like Firework live and die by the controls, and it’s here that the cracks begin to appear. Yan just seems to be a tad slow in reacting to button inputs, and this causes a lot of annoying deaths. For instance, after having found the second blob, you have to get out of the long vertical corridor that you found him at the bottom of. About half way up, the corridor narrows and there are spikes to get past. “Not a problem!” I thought, foolishly, “My new double dash thing will let me fly past that!”. How wrong I was. I knew what needed to happen; Yan had to jump up the wall, then leap away from it, dash upwards, dash left to reattach to the wall, and then exit the room. In the end, after failing to chain the dashes in anything like the correct order, I jumped into the spikes, took the hit, and then carried on upwards in the invincibility window that occurs when you get hit. In fact, a number of times I’ve stared in disbelief, as instead of jumping up the wall, as I’ve told Yan to do, he completely ignores my inputs and slides down the wall, usually to his doom.
There are real problems with Firework explaining what is going on as well. After beating the first boss, I picked up a piece of his shield, and after pressing a few buttons I discovered that I could equip it by pressing LT. I sailed on through the level, and eventually came to a fire that my gun couldn’t touch. Maybe the shield will let me get past it? Nope, I still got hit. I could not for the life of me figure out how to get rid of this fire, and so had to again take a hit in order to run past. Honestly, the controls really do spoil what is otherwise a fairly promising game.
Firework on Xbox is one of those games that could have been a contender, but is ultimately hamstrung by its own controls. The platform sections can be so tricky, with enemies to try and beat at the same time, and the controls just can’t keep pace. It has promise, and it is quite enjoyable in short bursts, but honestly the control scheme stops any want of prolonged play. If you are looking for a challenge, there are certainly worse games out there, but Firework fails to shine bright and should only really be considered by the masochists.