In April of 2021, the beloved Ludum Dare game jam took place with the theme of 'Deeper and Deeper'. Participants had 48 hours to throw together a game, and Sébastien Benard—known for working on Dead Cells—decided to give it a shot by making a firefighting game called Nuclear Blaze. After the competition was over, Benard wanted to expand on the idea and give it a proper release, which led to the Nuclear Blaze that we have today. Though it still feels a little simplistic, this is a great bite-sized take on the action-platforming genre.
Nuclear Blaze places you in the role of a firefighter deployed with your crew to put out a wildfire that’s gotten out of control. After putting out the worst of it, you stumble upon a secret research black site in the forest which is also on fire and go inside to investigate before getting trapped within and cut off from communication with your team. Left with no other choice, you delve deeper into the facility to put out the fires you can and to collect dossiers that can tell you more about what happened to the numerous dead researchers there.
Nuclear Blaze isn’t exactly a story-centered game, but we nonetheless appreciated the atmosphere that it conjures. The facility you explore borrows heavily from the mythos of the SCP Foundation project, a collaborative fiction which chronicles the notes and Kafkaesque bureaucracy of a paranormal research and investigation organization. Many of the redacted dossiers that you collect provide fleeting glimpses of the strange things being contained within and while you don’t actually get to encounter very much spooky activity, there’s still a lot to love about the sense of quiet dread that builds as you venture further into the dark alone, knowing full well that something got out of control.
Gameplay unfolds across a level-based 2D action structure where you kick in doors, use keycards to grant access to new areas, save cats, and put out a lot of fires. Your trusty hose and water tank are your best friends here, but water is limited, and you can only fill back up at a few spots. You thus have to plan your movements through each level to a certain extent, as fires that aren’t entirely put out will soon flare back up again and undo all your hard work. And if you happen to touch any fire even once (on base difficulty), you’ll instantly die and be sent back to your last checkpoint.
To keep things feeling fresh, you occasionally unlock new abilities or come across new level gimmicks that introduce some much-needed variety. The upgrades extend to relatively small things like a larger water tank or the ability to shoot water upwards, while the level gimmicks introduce things like valves you have to locate and turn to activate sprinklers or enemies that’ll harass you as you try to put out the blaze. Each level will only take you about five minutes or so to finish off, maybe a little longer if you search for secrets and find that stage’s hidden cat.
This leads us to what for some may be the biggest drawback of Nuclear Blaze, which is its short length. Given its development origins, Nuclear Blaze was clearly never intended as a ‘full’ release, and it clocks in at about two-and-a-half hours if you’re really taking your time with it. You can extend this a little more by playing again in a New Game+ called ‘Hold My Beer Mode’ which presents you with new rooms and abilities with a much harder difficulty, but this is certainly not a game that will last you more than an afternoon or two. The brief length is not necessarily a problem—short games are more welcome than ever these days—but it's worth mentioning for those who may have been hoping for something longer. For better or worse, Nuclear Blaze is just a cute little game that lightly explores a few ideas before winding everything down.
Those who struggle with the rather unforgiving base difficulty will be pleased to know that there’s a variety of accessibility options to ensure that everyone can play at their own skill level and still see everything without compromising the core gameplay. You can adjust things like how much (if any) damage you take or how long it takes to run out of water, and there’s even a ‘Kid Mode’ that features substantially easier levels alongside lots of trucks and helicopters.
For its visuals, Nuclear Blaze reminded us a bit of Atooi’s Xeodrifter with its simple retro art style and tiny lead character. The spritework here is generally well done, if a little unexceptional, and we appreciated the use of a surprisingly diverse color palette. You’d think the interior of a burned-out government research facility would be rather drab and depressing, but we noted many instances where varying shades of blues, greens, and reds were used to create some cool contrasts and make levels more visually appealing.
This is all matched by a soundtrack from Pentadrangle that borrows a bit from Metroid’s playbook in presenting players with an atmospheric and somewhat menacing collection of tunes to add to the sense of isolation and curiosity. There are even a few chiptunes tossed in there, too, and while it doesn’t contain a very extensive selection of tracks, the soundtrack feels like a fitting match for the tone that Nuclear Blaze is clearly aiming for.
It may not last very long, but Nuclear Blaze is a cool action platformer that does a good job of exploring its core idea of prioritizing fighting fires over fighting enemies. Things like Hold My Beer Mode and all the hidden cats help pad out the replayability a bit, while the strong level design and tight gameplay makes the moment-to-moment action feel worthwhile. For 15 bucks, Nuclear Blaze feels like it does just enough to justify the price of admission, especially if you’re a fan of 2D action games; we’d recommend you give it a go.
I played this one on PC a few months ago, and it was pretty cool! It’s really short and the controls were a bit clunky for me, but it’s super atmospheric and has a pretty unique concept. Definitely recommended if you’re looking for a short, interesting platformer.
As usual it being short is personally not a con considering I'm already playing way too many games at the moment and want to play many more including this one which, even more so after this review, I will definitely get eventually!
A little too short for me to bite for the price sadly. Seems to be the theme this month.
Looks cool, will add to wish list and check for sales.
I'm spoiled on awesom indie games and awesome sales, so $30 is a bit steep for me, but on a good sale, immediate buy.
Looks like something I'll buy in the future on a deep sale, seems cool enough, I'm just a "cheapskate". I loved Mighty Switch Force 2 because of the fire fighting 2d action (and kicking babies to recue them).
Pricey! Will wait for decent sale and some game footage
What does hold my beer mode do?
@DioBrando isn't it $15?
If it's $15, I'm in. After I work on the backlog.
@DioBrando @Jey887 it's $30 for the physical edition and $15 for the digital version.
I love a short fun game, glad I've got a physical copy on preorder.
mmm. Might give this a go. I'm ok with short games, given I complete maybe 10% of my game collection at best
If anyone wants an idea of what this game is like, here's the game jam version: https://deepnight.net/games/nuclear-blaze/
It's a rougher cut, but the core mechanics are there!
Short games are always a selling point to me 😎
2-3 hours for a CHEAP game is better than Captain Toad....$39 for 2-3 hours of content.
Captain Toad is a 15+ hour game, if you're claiming you beat it in 2-3 hours you're lying.
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