Nuclear Blaze was first created in 48 hours for a game jam earlier this year with the theme “Deeper and deeper”, and in many ways, it does that. Narratively, it sees you playing as a Firefighter going deeper into a precarious situation you might not escape. At the same time, it convinces you to keep digging at a rabbit hole that was never really there in the first place.
Nuclear Blaze Review – Dousing Expectations
Title: Nuclear Blaze
Developer: Deepnight Games
Publisher: Deepnight Games
Players: Single Player
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Release Date: 18th October 2021
Into the Flames
Nuclear Blaze’s greatest strength and weakness is its full commitment to the Firefighter’s basic move set. For the whole length of its two to three hours of playtime, the reliable fire hose is the only available tool and weapon. From the tutorial event to the end of the game, you’ll use it to solve puzzles by dousing fires (and the occasional enemy engulfed in it). The Firefighter is certainly ecstatic to spray them down, as he is adamantly dedicated to his profession. So, when the forest fire extends into an abandoned facility which seems to be the source of the chaos, he dives right in with no hesitation to finish the job.
The rest of the game takes place inside the facility, which becomes more sophisticated and technologically advanced the deeper you enter. There are hidden rooms to find which contains secrets in the form of notes detailing the events prior to the catastrophe, and sometimes a cat which you can save in true firemen fashion. Though these light exploration elements would serve to enhance the narrative in any other game, here it is the only way to gain context. The Fireman would frequently comment on the situation, either to himself or the radio operator, however, he refuses to acknowledge the absurdity of his predicament. So even if the setting raises the intrigue and mystery for the player, the character certainly doesn’t care, as if this is just another regular day on the job.
Urgent Puzzle Solving
The main gameplay loop involves extinguishing all the flames in the room before proceeding to the next more complicated version of that. What elevates Deepnight Games’ simple concept is its excellent execution. First off, fire is the main obstacle of the game, and from its nature, it’s volatile and contagious. Haphazardly blanketing with water usually won’t work since the flames spread in violent matters, thus you have to plan your route by the seat of your pants as well as manage your water tank. On any given level, there are certain stations where you can refill your tank, acting as a mini safe point amidst all the heat. Likewise, there are also valves that you can activate to help shower a small area with water, marking it safe from spreading. You also have the choice of which water sprinkler to use, as oftentimes there are more sprinklers than valves. One major downside is that it isn’t exactly distinct where the fire starts and where the fire ends, most of my deaths involve me jumping on a platform that I thought was safe only to get licked by a red pixel. The developer addressed this issue on Twitter and took steps to alleviate it but it’s still a slight inconvenience, especially since taking one hit without armor is fatal.
Nuclear Blaze also throws in a few hazards which can only be solved through twitch reflexes. For example, flaming debris could come crashing down at any moment and you need to react swiftly to roll out of the way. Sometimes, there are live electrical wires which deliver a horrible shock if your water comes in contact with it, or open certain doors unleashing a destructive backdraft requiring you to defend yourself with water. It’s this combination of reacting to new threats, quick planning, backed up by an amazing soundtrack, which creates a sense of urgency that creates a façade of challenge. Although the game isn’t too hard, it punishes slow players which cause them to rush and take greater risks. The game has adjustable difficulty sliders, which allows you to customize which segment of the game proves too much for you. Fortunately, this trend is catching on in the industry and it’s all for the better. There’s even an extra mode called Kid Mode for the younger gamers.
Power Ups are More Power Down
The most disappointing part of the game is the underwhelming power-ups. Instead of getting new toys that change up the experience of the game, you get power-ups like the ability to shoot water upwards, to shoot it downwards, or even to shoot water while climbing on top of ladders (which you get very late into the game). These aren’t significant enough to be called upgrades but rather feel like an amnesiac who forgot their basic training. Frankly, it is lazy level design. If the concept of power-ups were scrapped and instead he had all entire move set available from the beginning, the puzzles could have been designed with that in mind. When replaying the game, I felt handicapped and disempowered, whereas games like Celeste empowers the player by allowing them to blitz through their second playthrough using their end game knowledge and mastery.
Beautiful Pixels but Strange Art Direction
Deepnight Games also created Dead Cells, a hugely popular (and rightly so) action roguelike. While the high-quality pixelated art is certainly there, it lacks the creativity and art direction of the former. See, the abandoned facility isn’t just another secret government project gone wrong, it is a building owned and operated by the SCP Foundation, and it is in the middle of a containment breach. As an avid reader of the site, I would tell other fans to temper their expectations. Having it set within the SCP metaverse only explains the eternal fires, but other than it ends there. There were a few references to other anomalies but only in written notes.
This is where Nuclear Blaze’s commitment to simplicity fails. With more ambition, other anomalies could also serve as interesting obstacles to changing the formula. There are thousands of dangerous, time and space altering, dimension shifting, cognitohazardous monsters to choose from but none of them appear. Aside from that, SCP is known to have overly complicated ways to secure an anomaly. Again, the range of containment procedures was as wide as the site itself, but instead, you’re treated to slightly different, but all the same uninspired flavors of a ruined storage facility.
Nuclear Blaze Review Verdict
On its own, Nuclear Blaze is an entertaining, intense game that ended abruptly just as it got interesting, leaving players with a lingering sour taste of missed opportunities in their mouths.
**Review code supplied by Deepnight games.**