Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue was one of my most anticipated games coming out of E3 2021. When I saw the reveal trailer for the first time, I was struck by the colorful, crisp backgrounds and pixelated character design. On top of that, it had been a while since last I’d played a game centered around being a firefighter — I think my previous foray into digital firefighting was probably Urban Chaos back on the PS2.

So I was pretty excited to spend some time with Firegirl. Now that I’ve had a chance to do just that, I admit I enjoyed that time for the most part.

At the time of writing, Firegirl has a mixed rating on Steam, with just 56% positive reviews. So just under half of those that gave feedback had either a bad or just lukewarm reaction to the game. To be fair, I get where they are coming from. In the opening hours of Firegirl, repetition can quickly set in, and you might feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. It took me a couple hours to start to make heads or tails of how the game is structured, and I’m still not sure I’m entirely correct about that.

In those opening hours, Firegirl can feel like a slog. Alternatively, once you start to make sense of the level and enemy design — or you plug your hard-earned cash into upgrades — levels can suddenly feel hilariously easy to finish.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

You start the game as the titular Firegirl, a new firefighter taking over for her fallen firefighter pappy. She lives in a city where fires are just the order of the day (something the Mayor may know more about than he is letting on), so she’ll be fighting an endless barrage of fires set in different locations. But these aren’t just normal, everyday fires. Oh no, dear reader, these are fire-monster abominations, creatures made up of flames who are also sentient and, in some instances, quite ambulatory. 

There are your typical grunt flames that just group together on the ground and block your path forward; some of these hang from the ceiling too, but those offer no real threat. There are also flames that walk back and forth, and flames that look like bats that descend slowly in the player’s direction. There are hovering flames that spew flamelets as you cross beneath them, star-shaped fire bombs that explode as you get near them, and a couple other variations that crop up later in the game.

In this regard, Firegirl does a great job throwing a good deal of enemy types at you, which necessitates a keen eye and a nimble nozzle in order to find survivors and get out before the timer reaches zero (or you otherwise burn to death).

And even though the challenge level has the tendency to vacillate between precise, fairly challenging feats and cheap hits, it can also be hilariously easy to cheese as well. 

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

Firegirl has two main pieces of equipment at her disposal: an axe and a “hose.” She can swing her axe to break down doors and blockades, allowing her to travel deeper into buildings or caves. The hose is really just a nozzle with nothing attached to it (for logistical reasons, obviously).You can use this nozzle to spray flames from a stationary position, or, while jumping, you can use it to make Firegirl hover for a limited amount of time. With these options, you’re challenged with a blend of platforming and combat that, up against an ever-lessening countdown, can lead to frantic-yet-fun gameplay.

But there is also a good deal of frustration, especially in the earlier levels. This is especially true of the apartment building, where you are tasked with finding a specific number of survivors. There can be more hidden throughout, and there are even hidden cats you can rescue as well. Often, you will need to push past the exit and continue your search to find more survivors, but as you dig deeper and deeper into a level, your entry point can be engulfed in flames, which means you need to keep going in order to hopefully find another exit. But the limited amount of time often resulted in me dying before being able to successfully find that elusive escape.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

Thankfully, the penalty for failing to exit on time — or just losing all of your hearts and passing out — is a reasonable reduction to your salary for that job. Your base pay for each mission is $2,000. If you die or don’t finish in time, you take a $950 hit, so even with failure, you are at least making some headway. This money is used for purchasing upgrades. In fact, early in the game, you could just fail each mission and still make $1,050 for the minimal effort, then buy your way to easy to street. It might take a while, and this is definitely not the best route, but it’s a possible way to progress in the game.

What you really want, though, is to amass a fanbase, which will increase as you save people and complete missions unscathed. These fans add a bonus that can be incredibly lucrative, which can make leveling up and acquiring upgrades a breeze.

And speaking of upgrades, Firegirl has a good deal to offer there, and most of them are really useful as opposed to superfluous padding or level gating. You can upgrade the amount of water in your reserves, the force of its pressure (reach and damage), as well as your gear, which gives boosts to your defenses. There is also a pricey on-time upgrade that increases your water pressure auto refill rate. Aside from that last one, each upgrade has several levels that increase in price, but the improvements are noticeable and can make you feel more and more like a true firefighting champ.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

On top of these base, purchasable upgrades, you are periodically given the chance to hire on volunteers — mostly after rescuing them, but some folks just seem to show up ready to serve. Once you pay their asking salary, these volunteers can offer you heart upgrades, more time on your mission clock, and even the chance to negotiate better rates once you unlock the union rep. There are even recruits that will lower the amount you pay for failure, and also increase the amount you make from fans. These are all pretty invaluable and really do make an obvious impact on your ability to fight fires. In some instances, though, they can be a bit overpowered.

Take, for instance, the driver that can be recruited. Once on board, you can basically buy your way to a larger mission timer. I just happened to have enough cash on hand after recruiting them to buy four levels of timer upgrades right off the bat. This added a whole two minutes to my timer, which effectively meant I could now meander quite a bit in some of the earlier levels. Add to this that there are in-mission time bonuses, which add 30 seconds to the clock, and that previous sense of urgency gave way to a breezy albeit burning walk in the park.

There is one level — the second one I unlocked — that involves having to make your way from the tail to the tip of a burning runaway commuter train. The level is designed to require jumping between cars, some of which are no longer tethered, requiring a good deal of hovering between them. All the while, you have to avoid or fight the various fire monsters in your attempts at reaching the engine to stop the train. I failed this mission a few times when first trying to tackle it, until it became obvious that I could just hover over every obstacle, since there is no ceiling, bypassing all of the enemies in a matter of seconds instead of minutes.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

And since all of the survivors you need to rescue are always in the engine of the train, where there are no flame monsters, you can pretty much fly over all of the dangers, save everyone, and stop the train in record time, thus resulting in a sizable payout. Compared to the first level — which almost always resulted in my death, either from the timer running out or just from taking too much damage — this one feels lopsided.

But despite my gripes, Firegirl is still an incredibly addictive, just-one-more-mission action platformer that I am having a real blast playing. The art style is adorable and the colors are vibrant. Plus, the soundtrack is frickin’ amazing; I was getting real Aesop Rock instrumental vibes.

If what you see in the trailer looks up your alley, chances are you will enjoy your time with Firegirl. In some small ways, this reminds me of Neon Abyss, a 2D roguelike platformer that came out last year. Most of this comparison is based on art style, but there is some overlap in the combat and light platforming departments as well.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue is currently available on Steam, with console ports slated for 2022.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Firegirl for this article, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

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