Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue is a procedurally generated 2D platformer where you play as a fire fighting and hose-slinging piece of pixel art. With a tight timer and a randomly generated building to explore, you’ll need to hose down the fire and rescue the inhabitants before the blaze engulfs the building and all hope of your steak even approaching being cooked rare is lost. Those hoping for a hack and slash adventure featuring Firegirl, a lesser-known superhero and outlaw who was bitten by a radioactive fire are going to be bitterly disappointed as the titular Firegirl is so named as a cutesy descriptor for a female firefighter and the use of Hack ‘n Splash is a cutesy play on Firegirl having a hose.
The first thing that struck me about Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue is the design of the game. A lot of games live and die by their lighting engine. Take Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 – essentially identical games in their design and textures, except Fallout 76 has much better lighting so blows Fallout 4 out of the park (as long as you don’t look closely at anything for too long). In a game like Firegirl, where 99% of the frames of the game involve some flames, it’s great to see that the lighting is up to scratch. With the fire generating lovely flickering lighting effects, casting deep shadows and bathing the whole environment in gorgeous dark oranges and reds, the game looks the part.
The design is paired nicely with a slight narrative wackiness. You’re not fighting fires as such, you’re fighting anthropomorphised fire monsters instead. When you rescue people, they immediately abandon their promising careers in medicine, engineering and the like and offer their services to your fire department. As soon as you put out a single fire, you’re paraded in front of the mayor for a medal. All of this comes together to make the game feel distinctive and toy box-ey, taking the game-ifiable parts of firefighting into the game and abandoning the harrowing and consequence-laden part that heroic real-life firefighters have to deal with every day. This makes your inevitable failure to rescue a civilian, save the building or even leave the blaze with your life feel like less of a weight on your mortal soul.
Unfortunately, that’s where the nice things I have to say about the game start to dry up, like the remains of a civilian you failed to save from the inferno. Firstly, the controls. You have your standard running and jumping controls – an axe attack on the right mouse button for smashing through doors and destroying debris and a hose on the left mouse button that you control with the mouse pointer to extinguish fires and destroy fire monsters. The hose can also be used for an Iron Man-style boost jump, which is entirely required for vertical traversal. When moving vertically you can also look up and down to work out if anything is in your way before you do a boost jump or drop down to a lower level. The real issue here is how finicky the boost controls are when you’re using them in conjunction with looking up and down. I only have two hands, so holding left click, moving the mouse, holding the jump button and left/right for directions PLUS holding a button to see where you’re going is just not feasible. You can have a quick look before you commit to a jump but, in general, you have to jump blindly into the inferno thanks to the controls and, nine times out of ten, that puts you in a fiery-bad-time. To make things worse, you have a limited tank of water so, if you do crash and burn thanks to the awkward controls, you’ve probably emptied your tank and are doomed to burn in place without the ability to try again. There are water refill pickups dotted around the map, but you can still end up stuck in a hole unable to progress because their location is randomly generated.
That leads me onto the next thing that doesn’t quite gel – the procedurally generated-ness of the levels. Every single level is built up from pre-produced modular pieces which are sewn together procedurally with what appears like very little limitation on what permutations are allowed. This makes everything looks the same so it’s incredibly easy to get lost and means you have no idea where you’re supposed to be going. Am I going left or right here? Should I use my limited water to boost up to a higher level or continue to my left? Have I been here before? I’ve definitely been in an identical corridor before but was it this one or another example of this corridor being used in the procedural generation? This system makes the game incredibly confusing and frustrating. You never have any idea if you’re making any progress which makes you feel disengaged with the whole game and begs the question: What’s the point?
The final nail in the coffin is very much that, a very minor thing in itself but an issue that rubbed me up the wrong way, sealing the fate of this review. To quit the game you have to go to the main menu. When you go to the main menu it shows you the several-second-long opening logos first. If you mash skip to get through those, the skip button is the same as the select button so you select the first option, ‘New Game’ as soon as you get to the menu (which you can’t back out of once you’ve pressed it) and you have to start the whole process again – quitting, skipping and finally pressing the quit button when you finally get to the main menu unmolested. I was having a pretty miserable time with the game for the reasons discussed above, so this barrier to exiting the game dialled my frustration up from around an 8 to a full 10/10.
All in all, Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue feels like a bit of a mess. Awkward controls, confusing levels and some antagonistic design come together in a game about as fun and engaging as actually being on fire. As ever, a pretty game doesn’t make a good game and, as gorgeous as the lighting looks, it’s a pretty veneer on an otherwise unappealing mound of gameplay mechanics. With some more development: tightening of the controls, limitation on the procedural generation, a map and some balancing on size of the water tanks, there could be something quite fun and charming on offer. But, as it is, it’s difficult to recommend Firegirl: Hack n’ Splash Rescue.