Well, there's a hot wind blowing tonight in the east
And I heard that the park is filled tonight with police
On the radio there's nothing but a man saying to stay inside
Well, I remember what you said on the telephone
That you didn't feel like it was safe to stay alone
And you would get yourself to me if you could find a way across the line
The lines above are the first few lyrics to the song "Fire Tonight", by Information Society — a synth-pop band from the '80s — which inspired the plot of the game Fire Tonight. You might know Information Society from their breakout single, "What's On Your Mind", which is one of those late-'80s bops that makes you want to wear gigantic shoulder pads, drown yourself in hairspray, and invest in Apple.
But you might not know Fire Tonight, the game that sprung from the song over thirty years after its release. It's a short-but-sweet indie puzzler from Reptoid Games, the folks behind Fossil Hunters, and it's all about a young couple, Maya and Devin, who are separated by a city and quite a lot of fire in the year 1990.
For those of you who weren't around in the '90s, it was a lawless time, before the advent of smartphones, Ubers, and contactless credit cards; as a result, Maya's out of luck when the power goes out in her apartment. That means she can't access her landline phone, which means she can't call Devin to let him know that she's okay, and not a charred pile of bones. After giving him a bell on a payphone outside, she makes an executive decision to run across the city to his apartment, avoiding fire and police (like in the song!) along the way.
Devin, meanwhile, is stuck waiting in his tiny apartment, reliving moments from their relationship by interacting with objects, photos, and cassette tapes strewn around the place (the boy needs to tidy). Maya's side of the story is far more thrilling, of course, since she's the one doing all the puzzle-adventuring; Devin's sections mostly consist of you clicking on stuff and him talking about it.
So, let's talk about Maya. Her sections take place in little vignettes of the city, and can be rotated around to find hidden alleys, ladders, and objects to interact with. She'll have to figure out a way to get from one side to the other, as the titular fire blocks her progress (but never spreads) and policemen with torches threaten to send her back home with a warning if they spot her. There's even a Temple Run-style rollerskating section which breaks up the puzzle-y bits quite nicely.
Early on, Maya also unlocks a special — if unexplained — power: when she listens to music on her Walkman, certain parts of the fire disappear, giving her access to new areas. The Walkman has batteries which quickly (very quickly) run down, but luckily Maya can find batteries in nearby bins to refill it.
It's the Walkman that actually highlights the main problem with Fire Tonight: it's got some cool ideas, but never really has the space to do much with them. The Walkman mechanic is visually and aurally exciting, but the ability to remove sections of fire just seems like an extra hurdle rather than a fun power; plus, bins always have endless batteries in them, so again, it's just another hurdle put there to give you something to do.
Likewise, the puzzles fall a little short at times, with Maya often finding floating keys out in the world which open doors or gates, which is oddly video gamey for an otherwise relatively grounded game. Well, except for the magical Walkman, of course — but that didn't bother us as much, since it tied into the themes and aesthetic of the game. The keys seemed a little more incongruous.
There's also an issue with the size on-screen: Fire Tonight displays Maya as a very small character in a detailed, but tiny world. It's sometimes a little tough to see exactly what's going on, especially in handheld mode, and the level design leaves a bit to be desired — it's quite hard to figure out where to go a lot of the time. We managed alright, but there was squinting involved.
But largely, the way that Fire Tonight never quite fleshed out its ideas actually left us wanting more. It's a stylish game with a lot of promise, and the puzzles are interesting, if occasionally a little tiring with the amount of back-tracking you need to do. Most of all, though, it was the setting that captured us — maybe it's because we're kids of the '90s, but we really enjoyed seeing the decade being tackled well.
After all, the '90s wasn't all Nirvana, Fresh Prince, and Spice Girls; for a lot of people, it was cassette tapes of Depeche Mode, learning to play the synthesizer, and horrible, horrible haircuts. It's refreshing to see a different side of the end of the 20th Century, especially when it's such an exacting tone poem to the era. It's a shame Fire Tonight is over so soon, but for the price, it's a lovely trip down Nostalgia Lane for anyone who's older than Windows 95.
It may be short, and it may not quite deliver with its puzzles, but Fire Tonight is a rather lovely ode to the '90s that pulls off a lyrically-inspired narrative with panache. Maya and Devin's retro-styled love story is something we'd like to see more of in future, and if you're looking for a game you can tick off the list in an evening, and if you've got affection for the time era it depicts, you'd do well to spend your time in their world for a bit.