One of the enduring bright spots of indie gaming remains the ability for new games to sneak up on you out of nowhere. Nuclear Blaze is one such game. Based on its pedigree, one would think that I would have had eyes on the project from its earliest inception. Thanks to how deep my head was stuck in the sand, this wonderful morsel of a game got a chance to slip under the radar and I hope that this review can help shine a bit more light in its direction.
Stop, drop, and roll
Nuclear Blaze began life as an entry into the Ludum Dare game jam. The initial entry was built in a forty-eight-hour time period and, following a positive reception from the community and those close to the author, the decision was made to spend some time converting the submission into a full-blown game. Nuclear Blaze is the creation of Sébastien Benard, better known for his work at Motion Twin, the studio behind Dead Cells. Benard served as the lead developer and game designer on that award-winning project.
As Nuclear Blaze opens, a helicopter surveys damage over a forested area engulfed in flames. Several figures are fighting the fires and our unnamed antagonist drops from the sky into the action. Resembling an Among Us creature dolled up in firefighting gear, the game follows our hero as he checks the outer area of the blaze in an effort to help his peers battle the fire.
Our hero stumbles upon a mysterious military facility and notices burning embers inside. Players then begin the journey of extinguishing the burning facility while also solving the mystery of why the facility exists and what it was built to contain. The minute-to-minute gameplay resembles many of the classic metroidvania games, but without most of the metroidvania tropes. There is a decent amount of side-scrolling platforming, special items, secret areas, and the like, but the primary focus is on battling the fires.
Nuclear Blaze is divided into several missions as our hero firefighter descends deeper into the mysterious facility. Equipped with a water hose attached to a small, back-mounted water tank, players push back the blaze while shutting off valves, breaking down doors, and dodging smoldering debris. Several levels have locked doors that must be unlocked via color-coded keycards that are trapped behind burning obstacles.
Unlike Dead Cells and the games that came before it, Nuclear Blaze skips the itemization and RPG mechanics we've come to expect from the genre. In fact, the experience is nearly bereft of anything other than a burning facility. Despite this, Nuclear Blaze manages to maintain the mystery and intrigue thanks to letters and notes strewn about the facility that closely resemble those from Dead Cells. It offers a few difficulty modifiers, including a mode that even game journalists could complete! Also available is a Kids Mode, where failing is impossible and firefighting and emergency vehicles are featured heavily as opposed to the descent into mystery.
Graphically, Nuclear Blaze is a simple affair. Pixel art takes center stage alongside some simple fire effects. Depending on the source of the fire, multiple colors of firelight can paint the surrounding walls and corridors of the facility in striking hues. If you managed to goof up and walk or fall directly into flames during your run, most adjacent tiles of fire are extinguished in a neon bath of particles as you die. Dead Cells fans may notice a resemblance between the special items in Nuclear Blaze and the weapon art from Motion Twin's award-winning action game.
On the aural end of the spectrum, the real star of the show in Nuclear Blaze is the music. Marrying an assortment of 16-bit synth sounds and a smattering of more realistic samples, the soundtrack can effortlessly move from late-80s action movie montage into more idiosyncratic arrangements that were continually leaping out of my headphones during play. VGM artist Pentadrangle is credited with providing the tunes for the game.
Better to burn out than fade away
Was everything perfect? Not at all. The biggest frustration came from the gamepad controls. I started playing with my preferred d-pad input but found that aiming the water hose was nearly impossible until I swapped to the control stick. The adventure also ends just as things were really getting heated up. Nuclear Blaze understands the value of not wearing out a welcome. Just when I had decided that I was smitten with the game, I reached its narrative conclusion. If the idea was to leave me wanting more, then the mission was successful. Because this is still a small indie project based on a game jam submission, potential buyers should understand that Nuclear Blaze does not burn for long, but it does, in fact, burn twice as bright.
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Nuclear Blaze is available on Steam now.
- Novel metroidvania design from industry vet
- Outstanding soundtrack
- Easily accessible thanks to generous difficulty options
- Never outstays its welcome
- Issues with gamepad input
- May be too short for some
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Nuclear Blazer review: Extinguish your boredom
It's not a metroidvania...why is that in the review notes? You don't go back to levels you've been to with new abilities during the normal course of game.