Blazing Rangers, from developer Karu_gamo and publisher First Press Games, is the latest NES title to get a physical release. It was originally released on the Famicom, titled Honō no Rangerma, in 2021 but now has the chance to find a wider audience. There is always pressure on new games for retro systems as they balance being authentic but fresh. Blazing Rangers certainly looks and feels the part with great gameplay and graphics. But will this be enough to justify the cost of a new cart in 2022?
You play Blazing Rangers as either Popo or Mimi as they battle with blazes and fiery monsters to rescue the trapped children. There is a two-player mode that allows both to be on screen at once and a more difficult ‘b’ mode that has tougher time challenges. To beat each single-screen level, you must free all the children and get to the exit. It sounds easy but you are obstructed by locked doors, enemies and of course fire. There is a high score to aim for and secret bonuses, such as diamonds, to uncover.
To help you battle the fires that continuously break out across the levels you have two tools that any firefighter needs. A long hose connected to the main water source and a mobile hand pump that can be replenished. However, there is a trade-off with each weapon, which means you will always need to think on your feet. The hose pipe is limited by its range and the hand pump is not particularly powerful. You can switch between both weapons anytime but must move over the hose to pick it back up.
The hose will help you clear large fires quickly and is also useful against the fiery demons that keep regenerating. While the hand pump allows you to explore quickly as your character isn’t bogged down by the heavy hose. It’s not just the hose that slows you down either, rescuing a child instantly slows you until you drop them off at the base. A lot is happening in Blazing Rangers but it all mixes well to create clever gameplay mechanics. There is a natural feeling to quickly drop the hose to get into a corner and then burst back to grab it again.
To hose or not to hose
Blazing Rangers is filled with moments where that split-second decision-making needs to be maintained alongside expert arcade skills. This quick switching creates a frenzied game where you are constantly battling huge blazes with the hose then dashing off to rescue a child with your trusty hand pump. And then there are the enemies, they come in many shapes and sizes. They wield powers such as exploding fire bombs, firebolts that fall from the top and homing attacks. You will need to keep taking these downs just as much as the fire that spreads quickly.
Each time you touch an enemy or spend too much time standing in fire, you will lose one life. Lose three and you will have to use one of your three continues. Only having three credits adds a layer of difficulty that may put some off. However, the 32 levels are fair and you will find yourself picking up the mechanics after a few goes. Once your skills are at a decent level, Blazing Rangers is excellent retro fun that feels every bit as good as 80s NES games. Also, the thoughtful control system makes this accessible for novices but is intuitive enough for seasoned veterans.
And it burns, burns, burns
Considering the main hook is all about firefighting, the fire must have a starring role. Each level will start with a few areas on fire but it will quickly start growing as soon as you get going. After you have put out an area it will give you some time to enter it safely to perform a rescue before igniting again. The fire also burns walls and doors and it’s impressive to see the fire heat up each block. This also adds some strategy to Blazing Rangers as destroyed walls create new paths for you to use.
If you want to get super high scores or uncover the secret diamonds then you will have to work out the puzzles. Using the hose, you must circle certain areas of each level. Doing so in the correct way will uncover a diamond that adds a big points bonus. You will also need to work out the correct order to rescue the children. If a child is left in the fire too long they will be worth fewer points as they burn. There is also the length of the hose to worry about but handy five-meter extensions are strewn around to help you get it further up the screen.
To round out Blazing Rangers gameplay there are items that can be picked up that help you progress. The standard keys that open the locked door are something you will see a lot. Almost all levels have keys that need to be picked up if you want to make all the rescues quickly. But there are also power-ups that randomly appear for a short moment before disappearing. Picking one up can give you a decent advantage such as a sprinkler that slows down the rate of fire spreading.
Others will give you a vital extra life or a powerful water gun that improves on your standard one. The scenery itself can also help or hinder you depending on how you use them. Oil barrels will explode if heated up and will kill nearby enemies as well as you. Fences are used as enemy barriers you can shot water from but hoses cant be pulled over them. Both of these features help to break up the gameplay and gives some variety to how you tackle situations. The overall gameplay in Blazing rangers is excellent with great balance between challenge and fun.
Graphically, Blazing Rangers looks great. The fire is animated well and pops out with lots of colours. The enemies are also well-animated and they all have a distinct look. And although many of the levels start looking similar the great level design helps them all feel different. The music is decent in places and matches the action perfectly. The presentation is even more impressive when you remember this has all been made in the constraints of a Famicom. The developers have done brilliantly to cram so much into the limited memory.
This would have been well received had it been released back in 1987, and it does everything right 35 years later. Blazing Rangers is a great video game that feels fresh but keeps its retro roots. Any fan of the NES will see its qualities and how it stands out from other modern NES titles. For those without a NES or Famicom, you can buy a digital version to be used in an emulator instead of a cart. Blazing Rangers deserves to do well and has helped to set a high bar for indie games for old systems going forward.