Sokoban, initially released in 1982 for Japanese home computers, is the first “block-pushing” puzzle game that challenged players to move around boxes to accomplish some kind of goal. Of the numerous similar games it inspired, one of the most popular was Tecmo’s Solomon’s Key, released for both the Famicom and in arcades in 1986. After spawning some ports to other consoles and computers, it was followed up by a sequel (or prequel, technically) in 1992, known as Solomon’s Key 2 in Japan and Europe, but renamed Fire ‘n Ice for the North American release, which is the version featured in the Nintendo Switch Online NES library.
In many ways, it makes sense that the name was changed – there are certainly some commonalities to the original Solomon’s Key, particularly the presence of puzzle-solving wizard Dana, but how it approaches those puzzles is quite a bit different. For starters, since Solomon’s Key was originally developed as an arcade game, there’s a strong action element, as Dana constantly needed to avoid enemies while hunting for the key that opened the door to the next stage. Much of that is drastically scaled back for Fire ‘n Ice, focusing almost totally on the brain stumpers.
Each stage has a number of fires that need to be extinguished, which is done by either pushing or dropping ice blocks onto them. Most stages begin with the ice blocks already on the level, though Dana can create them with his wand as well. The catch, and another major difference from the original game, is that he can only create (or destroy) ice blocks diagonally downwards. In other words, it’s a bit like the digging in Lode Runner. Ice blocks will stick to any walls or other ice blocks, but they cannot defy gravity, so if any is left standing without support, they’ll fall. These restrictions make sense, since extinguishing fires would be trivial if you could just conjure an ice block right next to Dana. As a result, you need to use some roundabout strategies to accomplish anything without either getting stuck or setting yourself on fire. The Japanese version was nice enough to include an “undo” function if you made a mistake; the overseas versions are not so generous, so you need to restart the whole stage if you mess up.
Fire ‘n Ice is extremely lax about how you choose to progress, allowing you to flit between the nine main worlds and its subareas at your whim. The levels have no time limit, and there are unlimited lives. Technically you can play most of the “last” worlds first (except for the tenth and final one), but it’s unlikely you’ll have developed the thought processes to get much of anywhere. However, each world does have a “boss” level, which is unlocked after completing nine areas within it. These stages are a little more action-focused than regular ones, featuring enemies that are more proactive, or having lava that rises from the bottom of the screen.
Enjoyment in Fire ‘n Ice is largely dependent on how much you enjoy these types of logic puzzles, of course, but while the game lacks a hint function, it does its best to ease you into the basic concepts, before eventually introducing new mechanics, like the jars that can be ignited. The framework around all of this is well done – there’s a cutesy story of an old woman telling her grandkids the story of Dana like a fairy tale, and while the visuals are simple, they’re extremely well animated. There are also an extra fifty stages beyond the initial one hundred, plus an option to make your own levels.