It’s no secret that the Wii library is saturated with exploitative shovelware, dozens of titles designed and marketed for the gullible non-gamer crowd. At first blush Real Heroes: Firefighter might look like just another one of those games, but it has a number of things going for it that set it apart from the rabble. While most of these shovelware games focus on a single gimmick and use a generic, cute art style to blend in with the likes of Wii Sports, don’t let Firefighter’s title fool you into thinking it’s one of those Fischer Price games. It actually focuses on a legitimate career and tries to portray it realistically, at least to an extent.
Most Wii-specific games are partygame knockoffs, while the rest are in the established game genres of war, action, adventure and sports. I’ve always liked games that explore roads less-traveled like surgery sim Trauma Center, and while Trauma Center ended up as more sensational than simulation, Firefighter starts off down-to-earth. You play as a probationary fireman, “probie” to the other firefighters, during one of the hottest, driest Los Angeles summers in recent history.
It’s a good thing you’re outfitted with the standard tools of the trade: a trusty fire extinguisher, a halligan for prying open doors, a signature fire axe, and a hose when you manage to find one bolted to a wall. Each tool handles like a typical first person shooter weapon, and the Wii aiming controls are precise and functional as ever. The fire extinguisher works about as you’d expect, but it isn’t all that effective and runs out of juice rather quickly. The hose is the real heavy lifer and you’ll want to arm yourself with one whenever you get the chance. The hose supplies a constant stream of high-powered water, which can be switched to a misting spray for close-quarters fire.
The only problem with the hose is that its range is finite—progress too far into the level and you run out of hose, even though you can’t see it rendered behind you. This means that you’ll always have to keep an eye out for a new hose box to smash and equip.
The axe and halligan unfortunately suffer from waggle issues. You swing both of them with gestures and the axe isn’t too responsive, although it gets the job done if you keep swinging it indiscriminately at whatever you need to break, be it collapsed wood or metal grating. The halligan requires two different swings to open different kinds of doors, and getting the motion right with any kind of accuracy is pretty random.
You also get to handle more specialized tools—a circular saw for cutting through obstructions and a pneumatic spreader for prying open doors—but these instances are entirely scripted and don’t show up often.
With only a handful of tools and nothing but fire as an enemy, you’d imagine Real Heroes Firefighter would get dull and repetitive quickly, but to my surprise it didn’t. Epicenter Games has sprinkled significant variety throughout the 8-10 hour campaign and the grab-bag of level and mission design keeps the relatively simple premise and shallow “arsenal” from getting stale. You’d think that every level would involve spraying water on fire until every last ember is extinguished, but there’s a bit more too it than that.
Most of the levels contain disgruntled victims trapped behind the growing blaze—construction workers, white collar types, the obligatory mom looking for her kids and vice-versa. The mall level even has a pet shop you have to evacuate of cute animals. These victims can be annoying two-fold; often they quip petty and selfish lines, and their AI is rather limited. They follow a set path and as long as there is any hint of fire on that path, they’ll stay put. This means you have to practically hand-hold them all the way to safety; you can’t just clear a general escape path and trust them to follow it.
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