I’ve always appreciated the offbeat, weird titles that receive little press but fill out a console library. I like blockbuster games as much as the next man but it is the lower budget titles that offer something different. For every Mega Man I also like stuff like Kickle Cubicle. I wouldn’t appreciate Super Turrican as much if I didn’t suffer through the original Turrican. Firestriker is a strange one. It’s not quite the RPG it appears to be but also isn’t fully a Breakout clone. Its blends the two in a way few games have and while it isn’t a complete success is still really good.
In the world of Firestriker there is a weapon called the Trialight, a weapon forged by a sorcerer named Wylde. The four elemental kingdoms competed for it but only the kingdom of Wind came out on top. The sorcerer Wylde was not content with things as they are and sent his four demons to ravage the world. Now the Firestriker Slader must use the very same Trialight created by the mage to defeat him and save the world. There isn’t much text in Firestriker but even still the localization has many spelling and grammatical errors. But you are not playing this for the story; it is for the creative gameplay.
Firestriker marries the gameplay of Breakout with the adventure overtones of a Zelda. It’s not a perfect description but it certainly close. In terms of mechanics it is very similar to Devilish, but is more successful than that game for a number of reasons. For one there is no aggressive time limit ruining the pacing. More importantly the ball physics aren’t completely screwy and in fact you have a great deal of control. And with that the game is much more playable.
At its core the game is very simple but has many nuances. As Slader you manipulate the Trialight as in Arkanoid. You can move around the screen freely to better direct its movements but that isn’t completely necessary. The ball always flies in the direction you are facing when hit, allowing for a large degree of control. It is frustrating at first but once you nail it it is possible to target specific areas at will. You have a limited number of power shots that destroy everything in their path but only travel in a straight line. In addition you have a backup mage positioned at the bottom of the screen. His job is to slap the Trialight around whenever it gets near. You can reposition him to protect the vulnerable edges of the screen. Once they break if the ball falls off it is instant death.
At first glance Firestriker resembles an RPG with its overworld and fantasy aesthetic. The RPG mechanics are only surface level however. You have a life bar that is extended after every boss battle and there are only two power-ups. It’s simple but it works. The game is largely nonlinear, allowing you to tackle almost every level in any order outside the ones requiring specific characters. Initially Slader is your only character. Eventually you will recruit three more heroes in your quest, with each seeing mandatory use at some point. The differences are slight; Garum is incredibly slow while Eno spins longer when attacking. If it weren’t for the specific elemental themed dungeons that are required you could stick with Slader with no drawbacks. It’s disappointing since you have to recruit them and will expect more.
What truly stands out about the game is its level design. Every level is simple in appearance; they usually comprise four or five rooms. The goal of each is to kill all enemies or to place the ball at the top of the screen. This is complicated by varying enemies and other obstacles. It is amazing how a few unbreakable steel walls can completely alter the flow of what should be an easy line to the exit. The layout and placement of these barriers truly tests your ability to control the Trialight while avoiding enemies at the same time. While there are technically only twelve or thirteen stages it seems like more than that.
It isn’t without its frustrations of course. Some characters like Garum flat out suck. His slow speed is a detriment while offering no other benefits. It makes his mandatory levels a chore. The boss battles are pretty cool in theory but devolve into overly drawn out slogfests. Each boss has a specific weak point but trying to land hits during their vulnerable phase is tiresome. If you haven’t mastered at least some ball control than they are next to impossible. Don’t even get me started on the final boss.
That being said the good outweighs the bad. Firestriker puts up a decent challenge while offering a unique spin on a (for the time) still unexplored genre. Highly underrated but still a hidden gem in the system’s library.