Firework – A Modern Tale Review

Sometimes you can learn a lot about a game just from its name; Firework – A Modern Tale, is one such game. The game world, a facility in this case, is filled with fire, and while I played through the game the entire time it felt like work. The second part of the name is a misnomer, there’s nothing modern about Firework, except perhaps the fact that you have unlimited lives. The game wears its inspiration on its sleeve proclaiming to be a combined homage to Mega Man and Cave Story.  One series has been going for over thirty years and is truly beloved, and the other came out in 2004 and could be credited with starting the indie game movement, but there’s nothing modern about any of that. The gameplay is a very close clone of the 8-bit Mega Man games, with a few mechanics and design elements of Cave Story stirred in. The art style in Firework is straight out of 1987 as well, they went with a full-on 8-bit look with what appears to be a limited color palette at most times. As I said there’s nothing “modern” about this game. One bright spot are the bits of humorous dialogue the main character engages in throughout the story, which seems like a nod to humor found in Cave Story.

The entire game takes place in what appears to be some type of scientific facility that holds or imprisons odd little talking sphere-things with legs, and your job as the main character Yan is to keep them safe and entertained. The game starts with you telling a room full of the spheres a story to keep them placated and then must run to another room because some other spheres escaped from their shelves. There’s some humorous banter between Yan and some of the spheres which is one positive aspect of the game, and this humor continues in later encounters with the spheres. Suddenly an emergency situation arises – the facility is under attack by a group that undoubtedly goes to every Mega Man boss casting call. I won’t go so far as to call them rejects because they all have unique designs and their movements are animated smoothly. Their leader Ignis looks particularly menacing in his flaming cape. They set fire to the facility and your journey to stop them begins.

Yan starts with what seems to be a weak little squirt gun that only shoots a few spaces in front of him by pressing X. Just like the machine gun in Cave Story your gun can be used to temporarily hover in the air when shooting downward. Yan can jump (A) and also dash (LB) which is probably the most useful mechanic besides the water gun. Your dashes recharge as soon as you touch the ground or a wall. All the walls are climbable, and this combined with the dash make traversal somewhat enjoyable. You start with just one dash but can gain more by finding any of the twelve hidden spheres throughout the game. They are always found through doorways that are a little off the path, and then you usually have to get through a slightly tougher platforming section to reach the sphere and get the upgrade. These upgrades make the game more bearable and slightly easier.

Besides increasing your subsequent dash count to at least four, they can also increase the distance your gun shoots, which is super helpful, and increase your movement speed. Yan needs to extinguish as much of the spreading fire as he can, which very quickly becomes incredibly boring and tedious. The other obstacles in your way are various fire-based enemies, some humanoid, and some that shoot flame projectiles. Others look like various animals from birds to huge dogs. But your trusty squirt gun can extinguish almost all of them after a few hits; however, if they are dark orange they can’t be extinguished with your water gun. The same goes for regular fire, if it’s darker orange then it can’t be extinguished.

There’s a lot of platforming involved in saving the facility, and some of it is enjoyable, but combined with the fire extinguishing “work” the game just feels tedious at most points. In addition, there is little variation in the roughly four levels you traverse throughout the game, they all take place in the facility and have unoriginal names like “The Ducts” and “Corridor”. There is one level that adds a little variety by taking place mostly in the dark lit only by the fire enemies and the temporary switches spread through the level.

It doesn’t help that the 8-bit art style is very rough and at most times ugly. Because the art style is so bland nothing really stands out, which make this one type of grey platforms very annoying. These platforms don’t look much different than other ground pieces, and after Yan stands on them for a second or two they turn red and damage him. The fact that the game features what appears to be a 1:1 aspect ratio doesn’t do it any favors. Pretty much every level uses the same dull color palette of brown, orange, and grey. They make use of black negative space for many of the backgrounds which truly makes the game feel like it’s from the 80’s. Both of the games that Firework claims to take inspiration from have a diverse set of levels that make use of distinctive color palettes that are pleasing to the eye. One game lets you choose the order in which you tackle the levels, and the other makes you feel like you’re exploring a vast world.

The mini-bosses were fun to fight and provided perhaps the most entertaining sections of gameplay. They are all large fire-based creatures, like a rhinoceros and a knight on horseback. The regular bosses, while designed graphically well, were all extremely hard to fight and their attack patterns are tough to predict. This is a huge departure from the Mega Man series where you could easily learn your opponent’s attacks. In a cruel jab at their potential player base, the developer Ivan Zanotti created what looks like a brutal achievement list that requires you to beat each of the main bosses without getting hit. I’d like to see a video of him doing that. The way the game is laid out takes the fun out of hunting these achievements; once you beat a boss you’ll have to replay the game to fight them again.

The way the health gauge is designed could also cause problems for these achievements – your health is displayed in a jarring fiery heart with red sections for each health point you have. While extinguishing fires you can collect these little water droplets that seem to give you a sort of bluish-grey shield over your health bar which makes it hard to tell if you’ve lost a hit point.  In addition, the game is very unclear in its checkpoint system, as far as I know there wasn’t a “saving game” icon that shows up when you get to a new section. Luckily when you lose to a boss you restart right before the fight; however, if you get tired of dying to the poorly designed bosses and close the game, when you return to play again you start back at the mid-level checkpoint. Once you beat the boss however you can pick up a special weapon. In a system just like Mega Man, you can switch between the boss’s abilities with the left and right trigger buttons letting you use their attack or special move. One boss gives you a shield bash that can defeat the dark orange enemies, another improves your dash move into a dash mist making you invincible while in the dash. One aspect of the bosses I liked was the graphics that would pop up in the borders of the screen.

The sound design isn’t bad but doesn’t stand out either. The game has a somewhat decent chiptune soundtrack. The title track is catchy, but some of the other music in the game sounds a little generic. The sound effects are also retro, with the familiar blips and beeps found on the NES. I will admit the sound when collecting a large number of water droplets is strangely satisfying.

One HUGE additional problem I have with Firework is the price. It’s $15 on the Xbox store when as far as I can tell it’s the same game that’s being sold for $6 on Steam. The only difference I believe is that they tacked on an endless Co-op mode which could be fun if you enjoy the game, but it’s very unlikely you’ll know someone else that also does and wants to come over. I guess you could force someone to play with you, but an endless version of this game sounds truly dreadful. The story mode is also incredibly short, clocking in around three to four hours on your first playthrough. If you want to try to get all the achievements I guess the short length is a positive because it will require multiple playthroughs to get them all. I’ll admit I didn’t beat the game, I got to what I believe is the final boss and played for a bit and died. Up to that point, I didn’t unlock any achievements and I didn’t want to risk unlocking any. I don’t want this game on my gamercard and as soon as I’m finished writing this I look forward to deleting the game, then the only evidence that I played the game will be this review. 

Conclusion

Be careful what you wish for. As an Xbox gamer, I am continuously jealous of the amount of interesting-looking indie games that come to Steam. I would always say “Why can’t we get more of those?” Well, we got one, but it’s not one of the good ones. I normally enjoy retro platformers and the games that Fireworks draws its inspiration from are some of my favorites. The art style is bland, and the gameplay is both tedious and difficult, while also being unoriginal. There is some humorous storytelling throughout the game, which is one of the only highlights. If you’re at all tempted to play this Mega Man clone, buy it on Steam where it costs roughly $10 less than it does on the Xbox store; honestly I think the publisher Fantastico studio should be embarrassed that they jacked up the price and published this generic game. They should just let the whole thing go up in flames.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Humorous dialogue
  • Decent soundtrack
Bad
  • Poor art design, with bland and dull color pallets
  • Short game length, way overpriced
  • Lack of variety in level design, and generic, tedious, and difficult gameplay
5
Average
Gameplay - 5
Graphics - 4.8
Audio - 6.3
Longevity - 4
Written by
I started my gaming odyssey playing 8-bit console and arcade games. My first Xbox was the 360 and I immediately fell in love with achievement hunting and the overall ecosystem. That love was cemented with my purchase of an Xbox One. I play a bit of everything, but I usually end up playing fast paced games that remind me of my days spent in dark, smoky arcades spending quarter after quarter, telling myself "one more try!". Gamertag: Morbid237.

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