Product: FIREBUG
Publisher: Acornsoft
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #69

In EUG #54, I took a look at Boxer by Wal Mansell and this issue I'm looking at another of his games, Firebug. Actually, I didn't realise he was the author of Firebug until I noticed his name inside the cover of Acornsoft's packaging. Which is rather unusual because Wal has used the same elements of his platform game creation utilities in both.

Yes, Firebug is yet another one screen platformer - don't all start leaping up and down all at once. Whilst the similarities with Mansell's other games are suddenly all too apparent - Firebug also seems to have elements from Smash & Grab, which he also wrote - it is of course a game in its own right. Ergo, I solemnly sear not to ramble incoherently about how Wal seems to have redrawn some of his sprites, changed the location from a bozing gymnasium to a warehouse and 'created' a new game which feels almost like Boxer 2. It does feel like that, though.

Your job in this game, is to prevent the temperature in the warehouse reaching 100 degrees C. This is the only way to die. The game instructions helpfully inform us that should the unthinkable maximum temperature be reached, the warehouse will explode in such manner as to make the battle scenes of Apocalypse Now look like the teddy bears' picnic. Well, alright, they don't, but you get the message. Being well-trained in Health & Safety, the warehouse proprietors have placed fire extinguishers at the end of many platforms in the warehouse. With not quite as much safety-consciousness they have also elected to store highly flammable drums of chemicals in there too!

You are up against a funny-looking psychopath [Pyromaniac - Ed] determined to snuff out his own existence in the most inconvenient way possible - yes, he has decided to break into the warehouse and start fires. Interestingly, he is considerate enough not to just chuck a match straight into the nearest acid drum, probably because that wouldn't make for much of a game. Instead, he usually starts a fire in the centre of a platform, from whence it creeps slowly left or right.

What is particularly likeable about Firebug is that it is a simple game but you can use a different strategy each time you play. Various hazards are non-negotiable. That is, you need to do whatever is necessary to keep the temperature low, you need to jump the bouncing pistons in the warehouse floor and it is advisable to avoid contact with both the hoodlum setting fires and the fires themselves. But each level only comes to an end if the five drums are saved or destroyed. So for each fire the dude lights, you can either attack the fire by grabbing the nearest extinguisher off the wall, running towards it and drenching it with water. Or you can navigate up or down the levels of the warehouse, find a way round the fire and snatch the drum itself! Deposit the drum in the water chamber at the top of the screen, and it will be saved from the raging inferno.

A clever feature is that you can only carry either a drum or a fire extinguisher at the same time. Particularly as the difficulty of the game of the levels increases, and the game speeds up, and the dude becomes even more cavalier with his arson attacks, your best laid plans need to be ditched by constantly swapping extinguisher for drum on many different levels. This leads to quite frantic scenes (all of which are well animated!) as you contend with an ever-increasing number of fires, an ever more intelligent firebug and a faster rising warehouse temperature.

The game is set on one screen with a number of platform levels. Hazards have one of two effects. The smoke from the fires drifts across the level and, should you attempt to walk through it, you will slow to a snail's pace. Pistons, the fires and our criminal mastermind will send you plummetting down to the platform below, where you will finish sprawled on your back. Now what does that remind you of? (Boxer? - Ed] A clever feature is that you can only carry either a drum or a fire extinguisher at the same time

And that's it. The code for the game is far from huge but Firebug also has a nice intro and high score table. Acornsoft has, noticeably, taken more care to present these in an appealling fashion than in some of its other releases too. Of course the game will continue to infinity and beyond if you keep on clearing level after level but my highest so far is level seven, which probably means less hardened games players will crash out at five, or after ten minutes or so playing time. Which is, either way, just about the right amount of playing time for this kind of game.

I thoroughly recommend this game. It's a good idea, done well and with plenty of playability thrown in for good measure. In fact, it's almost like Mansell took the best bits from Boxer - then created an ever better game aroundabout them!