Nuclear Blaze arrives on Switch with extra content and provides a Metroidvania-like experience that gets immersion right. While the game world nearly makes up for what the story lacks, and the gameplay offers up the odd moment of frustration, this one easily finds itself in the better half of Switch titles of the genre.
The Switch era has been something of a renaissance for Metroidvania games. With Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Metroid Prime, and plenty of other titles offering 2D adventures through intriguing locations. Now there’s a new kid on the Metroidvania block, with Nuclear Blaze ready to fight fire on Nintendo’s handheld console.
For context, Nuclear Blaze is the product of Deepnight Games’ Sébastien Benard, one of the original designers of fellow Metroidvania Dead Cells. Benard came up with the concept during a game jam, before going on to develop the full game and releasing it via his own studio. Following a successful first year on Steam, Nuclear Blaze is coming to consoles, with plenty of extra bits thrown in for good measure.
There’s little in the way of a pre-amble in Nuclear Blaze, instead, you quickly find yourself in a burning forest pushing forwards towards a nuclear facility, with the danger factor dialled up right from the off. Your mission is clear – you’re here to put out the fire. So you spray your way across the screen, dousing flame and dodging anything your water is too weak to put out.
To be clear, this isn’t a bang-on Metroidvania, there are parts missing from the blueprint like an in-game map and dead ends, but it’s the genre this game feels closest to. In essence, it’s really an adventure game, but it fits the Metroidvania bill just enough – and further as it goes along – to take shelter under the genre’s umbrella. While a bit more exploration might be nice, the overall experience does benefit from lacking a map as it adds to the shroud of mystery that slowly seeps out of the atmosphere the deeper you march into the flames.
Gameplay consists of a mixture of this fire-fighting and Metroidvania exploration, which ends up sort of feeling like the happy place between Celeste and Power Washing Simulator. While things start off pretty stiff, with a single jump option and no manoeuvrability on your hose, you slowly pick up upgrades to expand your abilities. Eventually, enemies do add to your firefighting plate by getting in the way, though they’re quite easily beaten and only pop up half an hour before the end. By the conclusion of this short adventure, you’re a regular hosing hero, but the quest doesn’t stop there.
In Nuclear Blaze, your first play-through is essentially a warm-up. It takes about two-to-three hours and you’re done, with one-boss battle to keep you from clocking out. It’s not done, though, not really, as there’s Hold My Beer mode to contend with – and a quick shoutout here for the best retitling of New Game Plus I’ve ever heard. It’s not just the name we’re into, though, but the content too.
In Hold My Beer mode, there’s more to explore, and you pick up the essential perks like dodging and ladder-spraying while in the early game, meaning that the challenge arrives even quicker. To be completely honest, it makes your first play-through feel like child’s play – especially if you played on the game’s optional kid mode – transforming the game into something more immediately engaging, traversing from a lukewarm Metroidvania-like experience to something that sizzles like a Carolina Reaper.
Still, if you can’t handle the heat, Nuclear Blaze features plenty of options to mix up the gameplay to make it less intense. You can boost the water pressure, making it easier to reach flames from afar, limit the spread of fire, and even give yourself a few extra lives. Kid mode takes this to an extreme, stopping the spread of fire entirely and giving you unlimited lives, but the options are easy to change on the fly in case the little firefighter in your life is looking to brave the danger.
It’s not all good, though. The further you get into this game, the more likely it is to punish you, with fire spreading quicker and new components providing a souped-up challenge. There are points where it just feels flatly unfair, where you’ve nearly entirely extinguished a chamber only to not spot a small fire slowly growing under your feet, killing you instantly and forcing you back to the last checkpoint. Considering you spend the bulk of the game with a single life – on the default difficulty options anyway – it can make tricky sections a bit of a slog to get through, though it never becomes enough to put the game down.
The length of Nuclear Blaze is quite divisive, with the Steam community seemingly split on the short runtime. Hold My Beer mode goes some way to combat this, but there’s a truth in that it’s essentially the same game again with some extra content. For me, it all adds up to just about enough in both the quality and quantity departments for its price point on Switch, but if you’re looking for something to engage you for days instead of hours, it’s not going to be here.
Nuclear Blaze’s narrative approach is interesting, opting for the breadcrumb trail style of slipping in cryptic notes and messages that slowly uncover the overarching story as you find more pieces of the puzzle. Admittedly, it’s not a riveting tale that this game spins, but it benefits from some mystery as it drives you to delve deeper into the facility in search of secrets. All the pieces are there too, as far as I can tell, to tie up the loose ends and figure out what’s going on, it just feels slightly tacked on to make the overall concept – hosey man hoses down mysterious facility – feel more cohesive when I’m not sure it really needs all the layers it’s trying to introduce.
In terms of visuals, Nuclear Blaze’s pixels are popping with colour at all times, with the game world easily one of the highlights of this overall experience. The facility you spend most of your time exploring quite obviously lends inspiration from Metroid, though it’s a damn sight less labyrinthian and in place of common enemies you have fire and plenty of it. Funnily enough, this game looks its best when things are at their worst. When the fires are raging and it feels like no hope, the screen is ablaze with purples, oranges, and blues. Considering the size of the small team behind this indie title, it really is some excellent work that gives real life to the game.
Ultimately, Nuclear Blaze is a solid bit of fun for Metroidvania fans or anyone who just enjoys a 2D adventure that isn’t destined to go on forever, though, it might not do much to win over newbies. The gameplay takes a little while to get going, and the storyline doesn’t light a fire under your ass, but otherwise, there are plenty of reasons to pick up your hose and get to squirtin’.