Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flame Puppy

You know, I feel bad about this week's review. I rarely do about any of the games I review for Big Mean Flash Gamer, because I am a shell of a human being, incapable of compassion or love for my fellow man. But even I'm not made of stone.

The genesis of Flame Puppy was the meeting of Addicting Games and children's TV station Nickelodeon. As part of the network's animation festival, the folks at AG sponsored the I Got Game contest. The winner was one Debbie Scheller, who created Flame Puppy. The game itself was then made by software developers MadFatCat.

I'm sorry to Nickelodeon, who really had very little to do with the contest. I'm sorry to Addicting Games, who I've admittedly ragged on far too much in the past. And I'm sorry to Debbie Scheller, who simple wanted to make a dog that shoots flames out of its mouth whenever it barks. But MadFatCat made a game that sucks balls.

A side scrolling action game, Flame Puppy has you control the titular pooch through three levels of frankly insulting simplicity. Now, I will stop and note this: I understand that this game was not made for me. It was made for Nickelodeon viewers, who are largely children. So it would be wrong of me to expect Megaman here.

Actually, hold on - Megaman was a game that a lot of people reading this played as a kid. When I was eight I played Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Master System. You ever play those Labyrinth Zone levels, where you have to walk around under water and try not to drown? That shit was hard!

Or how about Shinobi? I beat the second boss in that game once. Yeah, once - that's how hard it was. And when I played these finger-breaking, controller-snapping games, I wasn't any older than your average Nickelodeon viewer. So I take it back - why should today's generation of gamers be mollycoddled? Life is hard, and their games should be too!

Anyway, where was I? Right, Flame Puppy. It's all really elementary. In the first level you use your fiery breath to torch postmen (the dog's natural enemy) and little boys who... want to hug you? Wait, why are we killing them? Those kids didn't want to cause us any harm! Flame Puppy just wants to have some fun, but apparently that fun involves turning Nickelodeon's viewers into charred corpses. This game is sending out really mixed messages.

Naturally, your flame breath is dependent on the amount of gas in your stomach, so Flame Puppy occasionally has to eat dog treats and Frisbees (the cornerstone of any nutritious diet.) As time goes on and you destroy more items and people you'll accumulate Puppy Points, which give you more abilities and increase the power of your flames.

The first level is a walk in the park (literally), culminating in a showdown with a giant postman that really shouldn't cause you any trouble. The real problems appear in Level 2, and they can be summed up in one word: cats. I know it's a cliché, but these cats are real assholes. They're led around by women in purple, for some reason, who occasionally release one of the felines. These little grey bastards will gang up on you in a second, and once one starts clawing at you it's really hard to get away from them. Every time he gets hit, Flame Puppy reacts with this silly frown that slows him down even more. I got killed more often by annoying little cats than by any of the other crappy enemies in this game.

The boss fights are irritating, but hardly a struggle. What annoys the hell out of me is that trying to shoot fireballs (an upgrade you earn early in the game) is a real hassle. To do it, you tap the space bar, but you also hold down the space bar to shoot a regular flame, so sometimes the game doesn't even know what you're trying to do. And when you have dog catchers swiping at you with nets, that's a real pain in the ass.

What might save this game in the eyes of its target market is Flame Puppy's ability to crap exploding poop. Yeah, if you thought a flaming bag of dog shit on your front porch is as bad as it gets, let me tell you, it can be a lot worse. This can be funny for about five seconds, but then you realise how long it takes to squeeze one of these explosive logs out. It would just be easier to use the flame or fire balls, but I guess if you're really into your potty humour it's a great addition.

The final boss fight got... weird. I don't know what happened exactly; I backed the giant snooty woman against a wall and she started walking backwards up it like some kind of well-dressed Spiderman. Or rather Spiderwoman. What's the relationship between those two, anyway? I guess that's one for Wikipedia, but I could also just not give a crap. I find it very easy to not give a crap about Spiderman.

And the way I keep going off on these tangents should tell you how easy it is for me to not give a crap about Flame Puppy. I will admit that it was nice to see the epilogue, where Flame Puppy releases all the dogs at the pound and finds a new home at the local fire station (irony!) But was this really the best they could come up with? I mean, Nickelodeon's got to have a few coins in the coffers - they could have afforded a better game than what they got. Sure, it's well made, but there's no innovation, no challenge and no originality, save for the main character - who wasn't even created by MadFatCat. I place the blame for Flame Puppy's failings squarely on the shoulders of the developers. This seems like it was thrown together hastily, and I think Ms Scheller deserves more.

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