Jones on Fire, from developer Glass Bottom Games, was first published in 2013 for mobile and PC and is now available on the Wii U eShop. In Jones on Fire, players take control of an extremely dedicated firefighter named Emma Jones, whose objective is to rescue as many stranded kitties as possible from the infernal clutches of a massive forest fire sweeping across the land.
Presented as another entry in the recently popular, mobile-friendly “runner” genre, Jones on Fire is pretty basic in both gameplay and scope. Basically, Jones hangs out in the safety of her fire station along with a house full of feline friends, while a wildfire rages outside. When the player is ready, they choose to play a level and Jones heroically rushes into the wilderness, braving the inferno to rescue more kitties. And that pretty much sums it up.
As Jones automatically sprints ahead of the flames from left to right, the player needs to know only two control commands: jump and slide. In order to make it back to the sanctuary of the fire station, Jones has to either quickly jump over or slide under several obstacles, such as flaming trees, while collecting as many kitties as possible along the way. As Jones clears each stage, the “Hazard Level” gradually increases, making each level faster and more difficult than the one before. The premise is simple enough, but if the player makes one too many mistakes, the roaring fire will catch up to Jones and promptly end her courageous mission. The player is allotted three continues, but once they are all used, they start the cycle over again at Hazard Level 1.
Despite the game’s simplistic design, however, the whole experience comes off as more of an unpolished proof of concept than a final game; it took me an embarrassingly long time to initially figure out the only way to navigate the menus and fire station are with the GamePad’s touch screen. Likely, this design decision is derived from the game’s origin as a touch-based mobile game, but it is unintuitive for a console game and could not have been hard for the developer to include optional button inputs. Additionally, the menus and UI are clumsy and take some getting used to. Despite the aforementioned touch requirements, the player is suddenly allowed to use buttons when playing a stage, which I found to be the optimal method of control.
One of the biggest flaws of Jones on Fire comes by way of the camera system. First, the camera is slightly angled backwards. Considering it is critically important to see what is coming ahead of the player for these types of games, I have no idea why this design choice was made. Further compounding the problem, when Jones finds herself towards the top of the screen, the camera briefly follows, taking with it all of the player’s view of what lies in the path ahead.
For what it is worth, the levels appear to be randomly generated, which can either be a welcome addition for replayability or a completionist’s nightmare. So, it is impossible to save every kitty and there is no chance to redeem any of your mistakes, but each level is a brand new challenge.
Unfortunately, the unfinished impression of the game does not end with the gameplay. The visuals, while neatly stylized in a boxy, voxel-like appearance, are generic, uninspired, and unappealing. The visual assets appear to be consistent with quickly thrown together placeholder art during the game’s development instead of completed, final art assets. This demerit is not so much against the art style, itself, as it is for the execution of it. Also, there is almost no variation in most of the physical object designs, except for the two different color tones of kitties or flowers in the background. Once you have literally seen one tree, you have seen them all. To make things even more drab, the scenery never changes — the player will see the same purple sky with the same green and brown trees for every single stage.
I found that the sounds of Jones on Fire are much better quality than the graphics, however. The music, while extremely limited to only a few different tunes that you hear over and over, is comprised of simple, synth tracks that are nicely composed and effectively suit the tone of the scenes in which they are used. The sound effects are also somewhat limited, but get the job done with a few nice bleeps and a constant barrage of meowing kitties.
While there is plenty to complain about in Jones on Fire, it certainly gets some things right.
The writing is genuinely funny, delivering several quirky one-liners throughout the game. I also enjoyed the fire station element. Not only does the fire station serve as a break between stages, but it is here that the player can upgrade several abilities, such as Jones’s life meter, catnip that attracts the kitties to Jones like a magnet, or a charge-jump. The two types of currency to purchase the upgrades are directly tied to the amount of kitties that Jones rescues, although there are a few clunky, residual traces of the game’s original free-to-play model in the upgrading design.
Overall, Jones on Fire has some compelling ideas and an interesting take on the runner genre, but lacks the extra bit of effort and polish needed to deliver a great experience. Rather than focusing on clearing individual levels, the game is high-score based, which lends itself well to playing in small sessions. After only a couple of hours, you are likely to save the kitties from the harshest of flames and see most of what the game has to offer. However, the game does entice you to keep coming back for a high score by offering free currency every day that you check in. Unfortunately, the audio does not play through the GamePad’s speakers, so if you are looking to get in a quick play session in off-TV mode during a commercial break, you will have to do it in silence. This oversight, along with many others, is another example of how the Wii U version of Jones on Fire was simply not given its due care during the porting process and is not as practical as the original mobile version. Fans of the genre may enjoy it in spurts, but there are more refined offerings in the eShop if you are looking for a quality runner to sink some time into.
Review copy provided by Joindots