Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fire 'n Ice - Thoughts

There's not too much I have to say regarding Tecmo's positively brilliant puzzler Fire 'n Ice. It's a game with some very simple mechanics that winds up getting insanely complex later on, demanding absolute mastery over its ice physics. Many aspects are handled excellently, from the clean visuals to the great map design to the catchy tunes to the perfect difficulty curve. Perhaps the story is far too puerile for such a cognitive experience, but the plot isn't integral to the overall package—Fire 'n Ice is all about the puzzles.

Dana's journey starts off deceptively easy, the first world serving as an innocent tutorial. You'll learn that your character's abilities are three-fold: you can hop a single block-high obstacle, you can push blocks of ice by walking into them, and you can create ice below you at a diagonal (bottom right & bottom left). The goal is to destroy all of the grimacing flames on a single screen, either by having an ice block fall on them or kicking a cube into its fiery face. That's it. Barring a few other mechanics, like angular pipes, burning jars and frozen stones, the game is solely about finding your way around tough layouts and determining how you'll extinguish each flame. That's why it's tricky to talk about Fire 'n Ice's component parts—deciphering your plan of attack is the real meat of the title.

The puzzles themselves are utterly fantastic, warming you up with the aforementioned tutorial where you push blocks around at a predetermined pace, teaching you to think about both ice creation and how you can traverse vertically with the aid of your chilly powers. It may begin nice and slow but ramps up into some utterly vicious levels later on, many of which you'll have to really mull over for long periods of time (or come back to after a full night's rest). There's a couple off the top of my head that stand out: 4-10's pest party, 6-9's claustrophobic stumper, 7-3's frozen labyrinth, and 9-4's tower of doom. Perhaps one knock against the design is that the last boss's stage is really lenient and simple, especially compared to the other autoscroller boss stages. But given that the game has some of the fiercest head-scratchers towards its final stretch that you'll ever experience (teaching you new tricks even at the penultimate level!), it's a minor chip against some already impeccable armor.

(Also, only after writing this review did I discover that there's 50 bonus levels included in the game! While most weren't as impressive as those in the main story [there were a handful of outright duds], there's still a lot of clever ones worth playing that continue to teach new tricks; it's amazing to me that an entire third of the game is left hidden behind a secret passcode.)

I feel a bit like a broken record for this entry, unable to expand upon my acclaim without getting into the nitty-gritty detail of each and every map. It's crazy just how much milage Tecmo got out of this game (and it has an edit mode too! [with no way to save unfortunately]), and if you're looking for one of the roughest, most entertaining NES puzzlers you'll ever play, you don't have to look any further than this. A fantastic entry that I unfortunately don't see lauded enough.

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