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‘FireJumpers’ Review – Fighting Fires? Bring a Tablet

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Redblox Games’ FireJumpers ($0.99) looks a little like The Sandbox (Free), and uses a line-drawing mechanic similar to that of Flight Control ($0.99), but the only game I can compare it to mechanically is Blendo Games’ Atom Zombie Smasher.

That actually makes sense in a way, as both are RTS games where instead of facing a conventional foe you must use terrain and limited resources centering around a helicopter to contain a conflagration or a contagion, as the case may be.

FireJumpers is highly original and captures the challenge of containing a wildfire quite credibly. Fire spreads fast over grassland, but is also easy to extinguish there, whereas in a dense forest you can think you have a fire put out only to have it spring back to life after you move your hose team.

Your resources vary from mission to mission, but can include a cut team (used to create firebreaks) and large-capacity water bombers, as well as hose teams and helicopters. Each has there use, but the helicopter is the most versitle, able to evacuate civilians, move teams into position quickly, and drop water on fires.

The game’s art is simple and blocky, but in a way that makes it crystal clear what is going on. It feels very apropos to a game where your score is determined by the number of medium-value forest and ultra-high value building squares you save. 3D rendered pinecones would add nothing to this game. FireJumpers sound effects are equally minimalist, and there’s no soundtrack – though apparently music and upgraded sound effects are coming.

There’s just one problem. The control scheme just doesn’t work on the small screen, and while a HD Universal update (or possibly a separate app) is in the works, if you want to play FireJumpers on your iPad right now, you’ll have to do so in 2x mode. The problem is that the entire map is shown, and a fingertip is simply too big to provide the precision needed on an iPhone/iPod touch.

You have to give the devs credit: they really tried to make it work. The game autopauses while you’re plotting courses and tilting your finger left and right to try and get just the right spot. It also brings up a zoomed-in 5×5 grid when you’re over an appropriate terrain type (such as water deep enough for the helicopter or hose team to draw from). But it’s not enough. Precision matters in this game, but I found it completely impossible to be precise on my device. I though about buying a stylus. I wished I could plug my mouse into my Touch. Then I discovered that there’s a Flash version of FireJumpers. I played it, and I loved it every bit as much as I’d expected to love this remarkable little game.

Can the game be made playable on smaller devices? Maybe, and the devs are still at work, with ideas like a more detailed and/or offset pop-up zoom. We’ll see if they can pull it off. As it is, this is a great iPad game… that lacks Unversal support. If you don’t have an iPad (or a lesser tablet, the game is also available on Google Play), you’re better off playing the Flash version.

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