I don’t know about you, but I’m all for games being shorter than most. There’s just something so therapeutic and pleasing when it comes to finishing a game in a sitting or two, whether it be the sense of achievement for seeing the experience through to the end, or the fact that you’re free to attack the next game on your seemingly infinite backlog. When it comes to Fire Tonight, a 90’s inspired narrative puzzler about reuniting lovers in a burning city, it unfortunately cuts itself short too soon, with only 45 minutes to an hour of content. Despite being arguably too short, it is still sweet, with humorous writing, simple yet amusing puzzle gameplay, and a catchy 90’s flavoured soundtrack.
You are quickly whisked away to the year 1990 and meet the star couple of Fire Tonight, Maya and Devin. The two young adults are having a deep and meaningful discussion over landline telephones as I assume couples did when mobile phones were the size of a brick, and the internet wasn’t yet mainstream. The two reminisce over memories whilst Devin combs through his enviable collection of cassettes when all of a sudden, the power goes out. Desperate to continue the conversation, Maya descends from her apartment to the streets below, quickly discovering that a fire has begun spreading throughout the city. After a payphone call to Devin results in nothing but static coming from his line, she sets out to his place, navigating her way through the city covered in flames.
When it comes to the narrative, this is basically all you can expect to see in Fire Tonight. Given the game can be conquered in less than an hour, it’s probably fair that the story is as thin as it is, and while the premise of uniting the two is fine, the lack of character development hinders the impact that could’ve been had. As you play as Devin and Maya, you do get to know them as people a bit, but in the end, it isn’t enough to make their eventual reuniting an event that you care much to witness. I did enjoy Devin’s humorous dialogue when pointing and clicking parts of his apartment, such as hearing of his love for cereal and how it’s all he wants to eat, to his staunch belief that ketchup is the king of condiments, despite Maya’s insistence to put actual spices in their meals. It all works to provide Devin with at least a bit of character.
Also providing character to Maya and Devin is the fantastic art style of Fire Tonight’s cutscenes, which looks a lot like the art of Celeste (in cutscenes, not gameplay). They’re particularly pretty to look at and are a nice visual reward in the few moments they do appear. The basic 3D aesthetic present in gameplay doesn’t set the world on fire (because it already is), but it is appealing enough to look at in the rough hour you explore it.
Fire Tonight largely sees you play as Maya, as she attempts to reach Devin’s apartment. In Maya’s levels your aim is to complete puzzles in a small part of the city in order to move on to the next. Levels take place on diorama-like maps that Maya can explore. Rotating the map can reveal hidden areas or items such as keys that are needed to progress. As the city is on fire, some areas of the city are blocked off and are inaccessible. Don’t fret though, as Maya eventually gets ahold of a special power that allows her to play her Walkman and make some of the fire disappear. Using this power chews through batteries however, meaning that in order to maintain the ability, you will need to scour levels for more batteries. Puzzles don’t inspire much creativity, but they are largely pleasant, however there are a few frustrating ones. The final puzzle of the experience is one that had me dumbfounded for a hot minute, more because of its confusing layout than its challenge.
In between Maya’s levels you play as Devin, whose levels are largely point and click segments that serve to pad out the narrative and his character. The gameplay in these moments boils down to clicking on every item in his messy bachelor pad until you move back to the Maya sections. You do get to listen to cassettes and repair a mixtape that Maya lovingly made for Devin, but other than that all you’re really doing is taking in the dialogue as Devin struggles with the idea of waiting at home for Maya. Thankfully the dialogue is good in these moments, and they do serve nicely as a little break between Maya’s puzzle gameplay segments.
Although Fire Tonight surprises with its simplistic yet enjoyable puzzle gameplay, it’s less than an hour runtime ultimately snuffs its flame as it appears about to burn the brightest. The short experience makes it hard to get invested in the characters and in the end stands out glaringly as its biggest flaw. Just as I felt like I was going to learn more about Maya and Devin and my intrigue in their story was at its peak, I was shown the credits. If Maya and Devin’s adventure was a bit longer, it would’ve made their reuniting moment all the sweeter and more rewarding, but that simply doesn’t happen here. Although the gameplay and soundtrack make for an enjoyable hour, the lack of overall content and narrative pay off makes Fire Tonight a hard sell, unless you manage to nab it for a couple of bucks.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron