Review: Fire Tonight

From Reptoid Games, developer behind the dino-tastic Fossil Hunters, comes Fire Tonight, a laidback short story adventure about a young couple separated from each other by a fire that breaks out in the city. If you’re a ’90s synth-pop fan and the title sounds familiar, there’s a very good reason for that. The game’s story is derived directly from the lyrics of Information Society’s song of the same name, which is a clever concept when you think about it. I mean, how many other games out there are inspired by lyrics from an old song? I’m not aware of any others.

This novel story unfolds over eight levels, alternating gameplay between our young lovers, Maya and Devin. Maya’s levels make up the bulk of this diminutive game, consisting of isometric 3D city environments that need to be traversed as you help her try to reunite with her beau. This involves elements of light exploration, stealth, and “puzzle solving” as you find keys and flip switches, push and climb on top of dumpsters to reach new areas, avoid getting caught by the flashlight beams of patrolling police, chat with the occasional NPC, and navigate pathways formed by the walls of fire.

Other interactive objects, such as sneakers hanging from powerlines, billboards, and newspaper boxes, recur throughout the levels. Some of these are for humor, and some add to the character and world building, but for the most part they are collectibles that exist merely to tie in with an achievement you get for finding all of them.

Maya eventually gains a Walkman, which opens a special focus ability that, when triggered, magically reveals openings in the fire barriers only while she’s jamming her favorite tunes. I put puzzle solving in quotations earlier because I hesitate to call anything in the game a true test of logic or ingenuity. The closest thing to a puzzle is in the final level where you have to manipulate a series of canal locks to raise and lower water levels. The puzzle solving is more navigational than anything else, like figuring out how to escape a maze.

Devin’s levels, on the other hand, are more akin to a point-and-click adventure. While he waits in his apartment to hear from Maya, you simply pan the cursor around and click on different interactive objects and mementos, gaining tiny insights into his personality and relationship with Maya as he quips about each item. Once every hotspot has been clicked on, you can advance to the next Maya stage. In one of these apartment scenes you can even kill time by listening to different tapes on the boombox and playing a runner mini-game on Devin’s retro game console.

Presentation is probably the game’s strongest attribute. Through its adorably cartoonish art direction and upbeat music, Fire Tonight takes you on a trip down memory lane to the late ’80s and ’90s, before the internet and smartphones gave us the ability to stay connected with nearly anyone in the world at nearly anytime. It was a time of Polaroids and payphones, VHS movies and 16-bit gaming, cassette mixtapes and boomboxes, neon colors and plaid flannel shirts, and the game captures the spirit of that era very well. Having grown up during the ’80s and ’90s myself, there is a strong nostalgia factor that elevates the experience for sure. I also like the almost diorama-style presentation to the level designs. The small scale and isometric camera manipulation sort of makes it feel like you’re holding the game world in the palm of your hand, rotating it back and forth to see it from all sides.

Another neat presentational touch is the way the level’s are all titled after actual lines from the song, though unfortunately this is only visible from the level select menu. Loading screens between levels display a cassette tape with spinning spools. It would’ve been a cool extra touch had these tapes been labeled with the level titles. Apparently other Easter eggs and references exist for Information Society fans to discover, but I personally don’t have enough knowledge about the band so I couldn’t tell you what they are.

Conversely, Fire Tonight‘s weakest point is its runtime, or lack thereof. The issue isn’t the fact that the game is over within 45 minutes to an hour. I’m totally fine with short games; in fact these days I prefer them. I have no problem with a great one hour game experience when it’s pulled off to maximum potential. However, in this game the short play time directly impacts your ability to fully invest in the narrative. Maya and Devin are likeable characters that I had fun getting to know on a surface level and would love to get to know even more deeply, but because you’re only with them for such a brief time it’s hard to feel connected to them in a meaningful way. For a game about a fire raging across a city, I also never felt any sense of urgency or creeping danger that would’ve elevated the stakes and made me feel more emotionally invested in what was happening.

Given its small stature, Fire Tonight in essence is a playable music video for the Information Society song. Even though the actual tune is never heard (for obvious licensing reasons), Reptoid has successfully presented a clear and concise depiction of the song’s lyrical narrative in the form of a video game, which is a pretty damn rad accomplishment. As an overall experience the game is a bit lacking in depth and emotional resonance, but if you enjoy simple narrative adventures and have a burning nostalgia for the ’90s Fire Tonight might be worth checking out.

TryIt

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also on Switch
Publisher: Way Down Deep
Developer: Reptoid Games
Release Date: 8/12/2021
Genre: Adventure/Narrative
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: A free Steam key for Fire Tonight was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration.

Buy From: Nintendo Switch and Steam for $5.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!