Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Firemen (SNES Repro) Review

Received: September 30th, 2015 / Written: October 8th-9th, 2016
Year: 1994 | Developed and Published by: Human Entertainment | [|O|]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.
Last Summer (2015) I tried something new--import without importing--that is I ordered some NTSC SNES repro carts of games which originally were Japan-only until the fan-translated ROMs were translated to NTSC (or PAL) repro carts.  The first two I tried were Lenar's Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof and Polestar's Magical Pop'n, both of which I found to be really fun and enjoyable hidden gems.  =)
The dark orange title on the top of the cart is a nice touch
Eager for more NTSC SNES repro cart action the third one I decided to tackle after years of curiosity was Human Entertainment's The Firemen, their second disaster game on the Nintendo 16-bit after the Poseidon Adventure-based Septentrion (retitled SOS in America by Vic Tokai, not to be confused with either Namco's 1980 arcade game of the same name or Zeppelin Games' action/puzzler Sink or Swim), which was released on the Super Famicom on September 9th, 1994 in Japan; it was also released in Europe and Australia but there are conflicting reports as to when it actually came out in those regions (some sites say it came out in 1994 like in Japan but The Cutting Room Floor states that the PAL treatment came out in March 1995).  For NTSC gamers sometimes repro carts derive from games released in Europe, which is the case here.  Like Gunman's Proof it cost me $50 to purchase the repro cart of The Firemen... but was it worth it?

During a party at the Microtech chemical company building (designed by architect Frank Weller) on Christmas Day 2010 (oh God, it's happened already!) a great big fire has broken out and is starting to become increasingly volatile.  Enter Pete Grey and Danny McClean, two experienced firemen who've been commemorated for their past heroic firefighting deeds, accompanied by the secondary team comprising of Walter and Max (sometimes sharing and being shared intel with communications expert Winona) who must extinguish and douse out as many fires as they can throughout the building, save the people who are still inside, and remove the highly dangerous and explosive chemical called MDL from the basement so as to avoid a bigger disaster than they are already in.  You'll have to pull through and be highly alert if you wish to save Christmas.

Watch out for exploding pipes
The Firemen has you take control of Pete Grey, accompanied throughout by his CPU-controlled partner Danny McClean, whose controls are quite involved as they require all the buttons be used on the controller: seeing as it's viewed from a bird's eye view you can walk (and crawl by holding down the A button) in all eight directions, spray the hose with an unlimited supply of water in an upward position by holding down the Y button, douse water downward by holding down the B button, and you can maintain your spraying position by strafing with either the left or right shoulder buttons.  In the game you can have up to three water bombs which you can use with the X button (but only reserve those for when you really need them most) should you have at least one of them; luckily every once in awhile you'll stumble across one to take with you.  Should you have all three water bombs when you stumble upon another one Pete's hose will become more powerful until you sustain damage, in which case the hose will be reverted back to its original power.

Ducking down from fire, fighting fire, and dodging
little fireballs
Throughout the whole game you are going to be encountering lots and lots of fire which you'll have to take out with your fire hose; whether it be flying fireballs, ground level fires, towering fires, and even miniscule fires (as well as ducking any time a firewall approaches).  But it's not just fire that you have to be mindful of as every now and then will be obstacles you'll need to avoid, such as falling spotlights which cause explosions upon falling down, explosions coming from spraying particular windows or Danny opening a particular door in which case you have to duck, exploding pipes that fall down, crawling through small gaps (and fire), security robots gone haywire, and trees falling from their foundations to name some examples.  At the end of each stage you'll be fighting a huge fiery boss (each one varies) which can only be taken down with lots and lots of water.

With so much smog you'd think Smaug was here
Today's game has a polished look and style to it, with well-chosen colors and a good sense of detail, especially when it comes to the fire and what it leaves in its wake.  Pretty much everywhere you go there will always be marks left behind by fire either in the walls or on the floor (after you extinguished or doused them out); it brings this consistently deteriorating building a sense of atmospheric detail and scale to the proceedings.  I appreciate a game that will go to great length to augment its sense of detail (no matter how miniscule) visually, sorta like Natsume did with Wild Guns (but you know, apples and oranges).  =)  I do commend Human for going the extra mile in this aspect, even though it doesn't entirely absolve it of its lesser qualities (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Strafing is the way to go here
There is a great flame effect during the title screen as the title itself gradually appears through a neat way, and the color-layering wavy flame effects shown during the introductory (and game over) sequence(s) are spectacular.  Each room and floor in The Firemen is differently designed; some will be clear (like the room with the elegantly-designed fountain and water), others may have smog effects (effectively portrayed by subtle dithering effects, which also are used for the firewalls), and sometimes you might be outside surveying what is below you (once in awhile accompanied by little rain effects).  The distinctive colors of the rooms, such as for the red boiler rooms or for the white chemical rooms, really keeps things fresh; I also like the subtle effect for after you defeat a boss where it goes from flaming orange or red to normal colored.  The fires themselves come in all shapes and sizes, particularly the bosses, a couple of them comprising of a giant security robot engulfed by flames and a fire salamander-style boss (way to add that commonly used enemy from shoot'em ups), and once they're down for the count they go out in fantastic fashion.  =)  Pete and Danny's designs and animations are charmingly solid, especially for the former's walking and crawling animations, plus the central characters' profiles any time there's dialogue (I'll get to that) are drawn nicely with moving lips for each upcoming set of words.

Awww, takes me back to the moment when Alen
was fending off against enemies coming from all
angles on a central platform launched by Garstein
in Alcahest; good times!  <=)
The soundtrack was composed by Hideto Maeda (Human Entertainment's Taekwon-Do, new music for the PC Engine CD version of Popful Mail), Konomi Itō (Android Assault: The Revenge of Bari-Arm), Hironori Tanaka (Super Formation Soccer, Septentrion), and Hiroyuki Naka (SeptentrionTaekwon-Do, new music for the PC Engine CD version of Popful Mail), and it's one of this game's highlights as it succinctly does a good job at lending this game's atmosphere as well as get you pumped up from its action-packed melodies (the choice of instrumentation is also sound).  =)  The title theme is riveting, and the theme for the introduction does a good job at setting the tone for the plot and what's to come.

Beware of caving ceilings
The theme for the introductory stage gets you right into the action, the fourth stage's theme is riveting, the final stage's theme gives the vibe that things are going to come to a close, the boss theme is energetic and action-packed, plus the ending and credits themes are a really big sigh of relief as the worst is over.  I also have to acknowledge the sound effects and sound cues by Masamichi Yamazaki (who also provided them for Super Formation Soccer, Septentrion, Taekwon-Do, and WakuWaku Ski Wonder Spur) for they are very invaluable to your firefighting journey; you can tell there's fire around (visible or offscreen) because of a sound filter where it sounds like a constant and heavily whirring sound (at least that's how I think that sound translates into words) and you can tell all major fires have been doused when that sound filter is gone and all you hear is the music.  The rain, various fire, and loud crashing sounds (especially as glass breaks) are really well-done and add so much; Mr. Yamazaki's contributions to the sound department here are highly appreciated.  =)

Crawling in the ventilation system
The Firemen has got three difficulty settings, the first two being immediately available in the options screen (just press B on "Normal" and you'll switch to the easier "Practice" mode).  On Practice you start the game with three water bombs at your disposal, and on Normal you begin with two at your stead; regardless of the difficulty setting you can still gather up to three of them.  On these two difficulty settings you have a limited amount of continues any time Pete loses all his health, and any time you find a civilian in peril your health will mostly be replenished (lucky).  Time is not on your side for it will go backwards (unless the dialogue pops up in which case it will stop), and should you use a continue you'll be given more time (especially after the defeat of each boss); not that it will makes things any easier for you, mind, given all the fire you have to deal with.
I wish you the best of luck on this one should you attempt it
On Practice mode when you beat the game you'll be challenged to try Normal mode, and once you've done with that you'll not only see both ending and credits but also be rated on your performance as firefighter and be tasked to challenge Expert mode; during the title screen press up, down, X, X, R, L, A and when input correctly Pete's death moan will be heard accompanied by the "Expert" disclaimer that pops up.  On this mode you begin with one water bomb, and for the most part it's largely the same but the catch is that rescuing people will not refill your health in this mode, you'll take more damage, and there are no continues.  So if you wish to survive The Firemen on the hardest mode all the way you're going to have to be really good here.

That's a lovely fountain room right there
Throughout the game the dialogue will pop up which doesn't necessarily stop the action but it does stop the timer, whether it be from Danny, Pete, or from Walter and/or Max, or Winona, or even Frank Weller the architect; and many of them provide useful information (even though you can rely on the firefighting on your own as you go at it thoroughly in each room and floor).  Now, I realize that resources were so little during the '90s compared to what we have today and you had to work with what you were given, and that fixed-width font tended to take up more space than kanji would (which had more to say than the translation itself), but... The Firemen's translation is so distractingly bad, so much so that it winds up making the translations from Produce's Brain Lord and Quintet and Ancient's Robotrek look good by comparison (this game makes me realize I was too hard on the latter's translation; it's still crap though but not quite to the extent of this game).  =(  With words that are sometimes spelled incorrectly, improper grammar and sentence structure at points, lack of question marks during what are supposed to be characters asking something during a handful of moments, lack of periods when certain sentences are done, among others.
With fan-translations there are so many resources by your side that you can rely on, but here's the thing: The Firemen wasn't a product of fan-translation, it was translated in its heyday for Europe... English-speaking PAL gamers were exposed to this poor translation... I feel so embarrassed for them.  =(  What happened?  You'd think the translation was rushed.  I can't imagine an SNES game translated even worse than thi---
Image from Wikipedia; tediously longwinded and highly overrated turn-based RPG
oh wait, yes I can=<

Somehow, someway, Human managed to
incorporate a fire salamander in a firefighting
video game; kudos!  =)
But poorly translated or not, it doesn't change its gameplay and set of difficulty modes (though it does reduce its quality a little for me).  The Firemen was the first of two games in the firefighting genre on the Nintendo 16-bit console, with the competition appearing in the form of Jaleco's Fire Fighting on November 1994 in Japan, which saw an American release on January 1995 as The Ignition Factor (interesting role reversal there; America didn't officially get today's game and Europe did not get Jaleco's take the first time around, hmmm); consensus says Human Entertainment's take was the winner of the dueling firefighting games and I kinda agree (I only played a little of the latter on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console, curious to play it after having tried The Firemen for comparison and being a Jaleco apologist, but I haven't played enough of it to form a full opinion of that yet).  Human Entertainment's take did good enough that it garnered a sequel on the PlayStation One called The Firemen 2: Pete and Danny in 1995, but only in Japan though.

I guess you could say this is a real Nightmare Before
Christmas, ehhh?  .........  =|
I'll see myself out now
Over the years The Firemen has developed a following, with several gamers clamoring it as a cult classic.  I can see why people would feel that way about it, but I don't quite feel that highly about it personally.  Oh, I like it enough, don't get me wrong, but it is a very flawed title; take out the bad translation and it would still feel flawed.  So the controls are rather involved, which means you have to memorize which button does what as they're all used to get through certain situations.  Okay, that's not a problem; the problem is the relentless nature of it all.

And when I say it's relentless, it does not let up.  Sure, once you're done dousing and extinguishing all the fires in a room, you're done with that room in particular, but there is more to come.  Fires will come in all shapes and sizes sometimes from all sides, which means you have to be ever vigilant all the time: you see a line of fires head your way, hose them out; you see a firewall, duck from it; you see a sloshing ground level fire, use the downward spray to soak them out; you see little fireballs, either spray them out or duck down; you see an explosion about to occur, duck; you see something about to fall down (like a pipe or a plant), steer clear; you see small gaps, crawl through them; you see a part of a ceiling about to crack, steer clear of that; sometimes more than one of these you'll have to deal with at once (Danny at least alleviates a little of the difficulty but not by much).  And it's pretty time consuming stuff, especially if you wish to clear a stage 100% by taking out all the fires (and saving all the people you find), because there'll be a percentage at the end of each stage.  If it sounds like arduous work, that's because it is.

Because security robots are a thing here, sure,
why not?
I'm sure that is also the case with firefighters in real life, and when it comes to that job there's going to be repetition involved which is a necessity in that case.  Repetition is also a necessity in The Firemen, unfortunately at points that can be real detrimental to the game's enjoyment value.  Oh, it is fun for the majority of the proceedings (particularly when it comes to exploring the Metrotech chemical building, saving people, and battling fiery bosses), but here and there as far as constantly dealing with fire and constantly staying alert throughout I couldn't help but find it to be rather redundant.

This game may have a lot of fans, but I'm not
one of them
If you want to play a decent firefighting game, there aren't many to choose from on the Nintendo 16-bit console, but between this game and The Ignition Factor Human Entertainment's foray to the genre is the better option (though that doesn't necessarily equate it to greatness in my opinion).  If you like the idea of constant communication (if you can ignore that awful translation) and exploring a consistently burning environment as you fight fire with water you may like this game just fine; if you don't like the prospect of being kept busy throughout as you're playing it you might not come out very enthusiastic from it; if you like a good challenge there's plenty of it in there as well, and it also does have charm and some moments of heroics here and there.  I appreciate Human Entertainment's attempt at the genre, with a lingering sense of atmosphere and a great soundtrack, for The Firemen is solid fun on its own terms, I just wish it was more fun than it actually turned out to be.  Although all things considered, it's not a bad way to spend an hour.  <=)

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. If I wanted to play a game where I can both strafe and crawl (either alternatively or simultaneously) I'll stick with Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof, thank you very much!  It's a better title all around and a ton of feel-good fun.  =D
P.S. 2 I know I gave a lot of games 7 out of 10 this year, but that doesn't bother me.
P.S. 3 Irrelevant, but some of the best movies I saw in theatres this year were Kung Fu Panda 3, Zootopia, Captain America: Civil War, The Conjuring 2, The Shallows, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two StringsPete's Dragon 2016, and Deepwater Horizon in my book.  =)  I wonder what other theatrical movies will make my list this year?
P.S. 4 I know it's early for this game that takes place during Christmas to be reviewed during October; at one point I was going to wait until December but I decided to take care of it right away, I figured I may as well.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Halloween, take care!  =)


  1. Good review overall. I first discovered this game in a compilation for ps2 (one of those CDs with SNES emulator and a bunch of games). Just wanted to state though that what you played was the USA prototype, not the actual PAL version. You can see that, not only because of the translation, but how the names were written all capitalised while the PAL version they are written normaly.

    1. Thanks for the kind words =) And, verily, there was an NTSC prototype of The Firemen? I didn't realize that; still embarrassing regardless. I figured that it was the PAL translation because the PAL version of Quintet's Tenchi Sōzō, Terranigma (which also was given an NTSC repro cart in the past several years) did use the sadly cancelled American version's translation for the English-speaking edition of the PAL version--obviously the same doesn't apply to other JP+PAL-only titles, but I thought it was the case with Human Entertainment's firefighting foray title at the time. This changes everything!

      But with The Firemen being among the NTSC reproduction cart library, why not use PAL translation? Why use a rough draft of a translation when there's already an official translation they could've used? That's just head scratching! =/