It’s rather rare to find an action game that is essentially nonviolent, so The Ignition Factor is somewhat of a novelty. It’s not exactly unique – in fact, it was one of two firefighting-themed SNES games released in Japan within the same two month period – but its relatively serious and realistic approach helps it to stand out.
In The Ignition Factor, you play as an intrepid firefighter responsible for battling out-of-control blazes in a variety of locations, which vary from officer towers to mines and refineries to a dinosaur museum. As you progress in each level, the fire continues to spread, giving you a ticking clock to work against, as you scour each environment for trapped victims to rescue.
The game certainly looks good, with bright, colourful graphics and some nice (if understated) fire effects. The sound is a little more uneven – for much of the game, you play without music, accompanied only by the clanging of your boots, the sound of your fire extinguisher and the shrill cries of alarms and sirens in the background. Once in awhile though, you’ll get a message from your chief, followed by a short burst of blood-pumping pop music, which then disappears nearly as abruptly as it began. I would have preferred that they either left the music out completely or made it a regular feature… though to be fair, if this game came out today, it would probably have a themed soundtrack with R. Kelly and The Offspring, so it could be worse.
The Ignition Factor’s attempts to be realistic are impressive, but they can also manifest in some frustrating ways. To start with, you can only carry a set amount of equipment before being weighted down, preventing you from running or kicking. The first time through a level, you’re mostly operating blind, and while you can swap out equipment through other firefighters scattered throughout the stage, doing so will cost you precious time. Worse yet, even if you’re carrying the bare minimum for survival, just picking up an item as small as a key card can put you over your weight limit. That said, since the game’s running mechanic is awkward and hard to control at times, you may as well go in loaded for bear. You should also make sure to memorize the map presented to you before the start of each level, because once you’re inside, the in-game map is almost useless.
There are a several game play elements that prove to be annoying, particularly when it comes to controlling your character. As mentioned, running is awkward, requiring an inconvenient double tap of the D-Pad to activate, and more than once I found myself inadvertently sprinting face-first into a wall of flames because of the temperamental controls. Another problem is that your hose, which only clears away fire directly in front of the water spray. Unless you strafe back and forth, you end up creating the thinnest path that you could possibly pass through… and unfortunately, since your hose is held under one arm, that path is slightly off-centre from the direction you’re facing. As such, you can be walking straight forward clearing out a path, and still find yourself engulfed in flames. Couple that with the fact that whenever you pass into a new room, you can enter the new screen right on top of a patch of fire, even if you come in spraying… the result is maddening. You have a life bar, but it drains quickly – dying means starting over from scratch, and there are only three continues before it’s game over.
In the end, The Ignition Factor is challenging, but not especially fun – it’s a great concept, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it’s a welcome change of pace from the usual 16-bit action fare, and for that reason alone it’s worth playing at least once.
Final Score – 6/10