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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

REVIEW: Gleefully fight fires in a tiny adorable package with Nuclear Blaze

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

When it comes to our "first responders," there are fairly clear lines when it comes to public opinion and respect. By which I mean, paramedics and firefighters are cool and helpful and police are part of a violent, financially bloated, racist and inhumane force. I digress. Today, we're focusing in on the firefighters.

There's something inherently impressive about a firefighter. In one moment, they're at the station sharing meals or working out, out presenting public safety demos, or performing general upkeep on their equipment. In the next, all that calm can break with one chime of a siren, and these heroes are ready to jump into the most dangerous situations as quickly as possible.

Whether they're keeping the public (and nature) safe from fire or assisting with medical emergencies, firefighters willingly put themselves in harm's way for the good of others. If there's any service that deserves more representation in gaming — and still makes for exciting gameplay — it's these fire-punchin' folks.

Almost as if they'd heard the call, Nuclear Blaze burst onto the scene out of nowhere to provide us a weighty firefighting platformer that packs a lot into a tiny package.

An animated gif depicts a staged scene demonstrating Nuclear Blaze's mechanics. It shows a firefighter bursting into a burning house, dodging through some flames, and putting out the fires at the end.

​Just the Facts

Developer: Deepnight Games

Publisher: Deepnight Games

Platform(s): PC* *platform reviewed on

Price: $9.99

Release Date: Oct. 18, 2021

Key provided by Evolve PR.

Born out of a Ludum Dare game jam in 2021, Nuclear Blaze was developed and self-published by Deepnight Games, the "one-man" studio started by Sébastien Bernard, the lead dev behind roguelike darling Dead Cells. And for his first proper release since leaving the team, Bernard has surely captured a bit of the magic that earned Dead Cells all of its acclaim.

Nuclear Blaze is a miniature package. Both in design and length, the game is humble in its scope and a perfect reminder that bigger isn't always better.

Playing through this game was one of the breeziest experiences I've had in my years as a *~((Respected Game Critic))~*, clocking in at just one to two hours total, and I compel game developers of all sizes to make more games just like this. With only a few hours to work with, Nuclear Blaze keeps things light in the narrative department. A firefighting crew gets called to contain a sudden forest fire and our unnamed protagonist is sent in to find the source of the danger. Following the flames and the guidance of HQ, our hero uncovers a hidden underground research facility. As they progress deeper and deeper, a conspiracy is uncovered involving fire-generating hornets, actual SCP experiments, and lots and lots of fire.

Navigating this facility and its many dangers, it's obvious that Bernard's experiences coming off of Dead Cells are paying dividends in this firefighting platformer. You run, jump, and plant yourself to shoot your hose while dodging falling debris and an ever-growing fire. There's something about this weighty and stout firefighter's jumps that are extremely satisfying to pull off. Having to stop all movement to shoot your hose makes the platforming progression from safe point to safe point in each of the game's 23 levels a consistently tense affair.

Especially when you realize how dangerous Nuclear Blaze's fires actually are.

Bernard nailed the look and feel of both the fire and water. Working with some beautiful post-processing effects, fires build from embers bubbling on surfaces to full-blown blazes overwhelming a room. It's a simple effect but an impressive look, especially against the chunkier pixels in the game's overall art design.

An in-game screenshot of Nuclear Blaze depicts a firefighter falling through a vent in one of the game's levels. A large arrow points at the vent, showing the way to the facility's water pump system.

Chunky pixels, scanlines, and CRT filters don't usually do it for me, but something about the way they're implemented here really works. I think it's the overall feeling of nostalgia, like this was some odd European NEOGEO hit that I just missed, helping to sell the aesthetic.

Tack on a soundtrack straight out of the 90s era of arcade hits, with chiptune rock that ramp up when you're in a chaotic situation and die down in silence, and you've got all the makings of a cult classic.

Mechanically, fire is appropriately frustrating and scary. Most fires you encounter are already raging, but some emerge from pressurized rooms/explosions and spread throughout previously safe areas with ease. This means you constantly have to keep on top of fighting back the fire's edges and prevent it from retaking already cleared zones. Some areas put a ticking clock on you, with timers counting down as fires burn up terminals waiting to explode. It's a fun dance, but there are tiny bits of frustration when a room you meticulously cleared is suddenly blazing again.

Fighting the fires, on the other hand, is appropriately satisfying and fun. You start out with only the ability to shoot out water in a straight line, but you eventually unlock the ability to shoot diagonally in arcs, and directly above you to create a bubble of water that both protects you from bursts of fire and eliminates fires below you.

Much like the satisfaction of games like PowerWash Simulator, there's just something so appealing about spraying a room clean. You're also working with a limited tank of water, so it isn't just a matter of spraying wildly, because being caught with an empty tank (and a weakened hose stream) when a sudden burst of fire emerges is a dangerous matter.

An in-game screenshot of Nuclear Blaze depicts a firefighter jumping off a ladder, over a flame, and onto a safe surface below.

Difficulty is a treat here, with a fairly robust accessibility system allowing folks to cater the experience to their sensibilities at any point. You can change the number of hits you take before dying (the game defaults at just one hit), how much water your tanks carry, how strong and far your hose can shoot, if there are warnings when fire strikes suddenly, and how fast fires spread. Each option, when toggled, is represented with an increase or decrease to the difficulty level, with the game defaulting at 60% difficulty, an almost perfect setting for most players.

There's even a cute Kids Mode that Bernard developed for his children, which is all about saving kittens and putting out fires. Every button = hose and there are no aiming or platforming requirements, so it's all about moving forward and pushing buttons to win. I genuinely think something like this is genius and overlooked — a slightly more engaging version of traditional "kid-focused" experiences like these could help create gamers out of young kids. Especially with the ability to eventually graduate to the main game and fine-tune the difficulty for them.

Both in design and length, the game is humble in its scope and a perfect reminder that bigger isn't always better.

My only major nitpicks are a few unfair checkpoints that can make huge multi-level areas a pain. With only one hit between you and death, just barely tapping a bit of fire after clearing an entire room will send you all the way back to the start, forcing you to once again tediously tackle a room full of flames.

Nuclear Blaze's few actual combat encounters are also a minor pain point, particularly since they only come in the final chunk of the game and are a bit much to adjust to. All together, Nuclear Blaze is a perfect tiny package, but I had so much fun that I only craved more in the end. The developer has mentioned he'd like to make more levels — my own dream is for a tile-based level editor to be released so the community can keep the game alive eternally. Even if it never saw one drip of extra content though, Nuclear Blaze isn't just blowing smoke. These few hours of firefighting bring extremely enjoyable, bite-sized action.

As I've said time and time again, I'd rather have a year's worth of these tiny experiences than some 120-hour blockbuster, so I hope Nuclear Blaze is a sign of changing tides in the indie space.

video games are good and Nuclear Blaze is . . . GREAT. (8/10)

+ a bite-sized weighty platformer with nearly perfect difficulty and great difficulty customization options - so good we wish it had even more going on; frustrating checkpoints ruin the pace in some of the bigger zones

An animated gif showcases footage of the game Nuclear Blaze, displaying the various ways you navigate a room and put out fires.

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