Gaming is not short of NES-like experiences these days; titles filled with 8-bit-style blocky pixels, beepy music, and some controllable character for you to take from the left side of the screen to the right. These games tend to chase the past from a comfortable distance, the harsh technical restrictions of almost 40 years ago something to keep in mind for stylistic reasons rather than be tied down to. Blazing Rangers is different.
Blazing Rangers by Karu_gamo, perhaps best known for their work on the Protect Me Knight series, isn’t merely NES-like, it’s a brand new NES game made for use with either original Nintendo hardware or your compatible cartridge-taking equivalent of choice.
New-retro physical releases like this are difficult to get right; if anything feels even slightly off, the whole package slides from happy nostalgia to uncomfortably knock-off. Happily the Famicom edition of Blazing Rangers we tested stands up to even a collector’s level of scrutiny, with the box as well as the cart looking and feeling as well-constructed and professionally produced as any authentic copy of Kirby’s Adventure or Salamander. The included manual is thick, detailed, and full colour, taking the time not only to go over all the gameplay tricks you need to know but even including a short comic and some stylish illustrations as well.
The game design most closely resembles the single screen arcade titles of decades gone by, games with straightforward but enjoyably skilful gameplay loops that repeat over and over in more challenging variations of themselves until the short ending sequence plays. One person can play alone or a friend can join in for some cooperative fun (impressively, both characters not only have their own strengths and weaknesses but they actually look different from each other too), with the goal of each level being to rescue all the children trapped within and then carry them safely back to the exit.
To make things difficult, stages often place these unlucky kids behind locked doors or close to roaring fires and dangerous exploding barrels, and on top of that the large points bonus you gain from bringing more than one back at a time (ideally all of them in one go) is always tempting… even if your already vulnerable firefighter slows down significantly when carrying more than one person at a time.
How hard or easy this all is also depends on whether you plumped for the nostalgically titled A or B game. The A game is a challenging but manageable run through the game’s thirty-two stages while the B game is much harder, featuring a drastically shorter timer that only replenishes if you successfully rescue children (or die trying) — and you’ll want to keep the timer looking as healthy as possible because when it hits zero the screen turns an intimidating red and the fires become more fierce and spread faster than ever before.
As a Blazing Ranger you are at least well-prepared for all the heat-based problems thrown your way, thanks to a helpful length of hose as well as a water gun capable of pushing the flames back in eight directions. Like all good retro titles, the difference between these two pieces of equipment is subtle but significant. The hose shoots out an infinite stream of water but is limited by its length (although the 5m extensions dotted throughout each level will help with this), is heavy to carry, and can’t be taken over fences either. Sudden fires and even mischievous monsters can rip it out of your hands, too, forcing you to decide on the spot whether to push on regardless or risk going back to retrieve it.
The water gun has a shorter range, limited (but refillable) supplies, and must be periodically pumped up with a frantic hammering of the 'B' button, but it also has the clear benefit of always being with you no matter where you are or how bad the fire gets. Rushing off to collect one of the randomly generated power ups that appear from time to time can also help, from the expected but always welcome 1UP to the coveted sprinkler that rains down random drops of water onto the floor below.
Even so, no matter how well you hose the stage down you’re always fighting a losing battle as stages tend to start as blazing infernos and then get quickly worse, often making you pick a dangerous route through the least-worst flames on the spur of the moment than work your way across the stage in a safe and methodical manner. Brick walls will eventually glow red-hot before crumbling away — potentially creating a shorter route to a survivor than planned — doors can burn down, and fire-breathing monsters will keep spawning no matter what you do. It’s astonishing how dynamically the levels fall apart, especially considering the hardware. No matter how carefully you play or how familiar you are with each level, you’re never in full control of your environment, and one of the great joys of the game is turning on your dusty old console and knowing for a fact each game of Blazing Rangers will play out at least a little differently from the last.
Diamonds hidden on each stage also add to the longevity, their location revealed by a brief sparkle as the level begins (and even then only if you collected a magnifying glass power up on the previous map). Looping these often tricky spots with your hose becomes a puzzle in its own right as they can often only be reached by lengthening the hose beyond its standard limits and carefully planning your route. The extra points gained from each diamond do make it worthwhile though — and there’s even a secret ending waiting for you if you manage to collect every single one.
Blazing Rangers is more than just another '80s-style novelty intended to sell out on pre-order and then sit on shelves never to be played — it really does feel like a new game that just happens to be on the NES and not another round of “Remembering Retro Things: NES Edition”. It aims to be more than a timid rehash of a popular modern trend or another safe retro-friendly bet. It’s simple enough for anyone to pick up the basics in just a few rounds of play but also has the depth and scoring potential to make it worth coming back to again and again, the constant pressure and slight randomness built into the game’s design forcing you to think on your feet even if you’ve cleared a level dozens of times before, and an unlockable "Extreme" mode guaranteed to challenge even the toughest Rangers. If you've got the skills — and the requisite hardware — Blazing Rangers is a real 8-bit blast.