Kitties are cute and should be saved: this is the premise of Jones On Fire ($2.99), and it’s a good one. These kitties are indeed cute, and you, as the intrepid firefighter Jones, really ought to save them. I can say with some certainty that they’d do the same for you.
The woods are on fire, and they’re utterly stuffed with kitties. It’s a bad combination. So Jones leaves the safety of her fire hall, dives out into the flaming woods, and runs and slides her way through each hazard level collecting every kitty she can. Then, after a brief breather in the hall, it’s back out into the hellish flames, this time coming on even faster.
Hazard levels are an effective way to break up the monotony of an endless runner. Each one is tougher than the last, but the rewards are also greater. When you get through one, you pause to tally your kitties, multiplied by the difficulty you face, and then you hop back to it. When you burn through all your lives, the kitties drag you back to Hazard Level 1 to start all over again.
Rescuing kitties leads to bonuses. Ordinary kitties can be traded for boosts and a few first-tier skills. The far less common golden kitties are good for better skills, for better boosts or for more lives. It’s your typical dual-currency system, and you can buy all the gold kitties you please. There’s no pay-to-win option, however: buying continues or extra lives just makes the grind a little faster, since the Game Center leaderboards only track the total number of kitties you save.
This does have the side effect of making Jones On Fire a bit focused on grinding. Kitties are, in addition to being cute, both the currency and the competition. You will probably want to get further into the game to earn kitties faster and, well, get further, but there are no other benefits. The grim fire-ridden forest is currently all there is to see, so reaching the fire hall for the seventh time without running out of lives really just means you’re going to go for a much more difficult eighth.
Including lives and breaks in the fire hall keeps Jones On Fire from being mechanically identical to every other runner out there, but it’s the aesthetic value that gives it life. The palette is dark, almost unpleasantly so, but the blocky Jones, kitties and fire hall are charming as all heck. Even better is the soundtrack, which is an absolute necessity for getting the most out of this game. Otherwise it’s all in the details – everything down to the mission text is flavorful.
Missions do break up the action nicely, charging you with bumping into fallen trees, sliding beneath them, outracing the wall of fire or any number of other particular actions repeated many times over. The descriptions could be clearer at times—discovering which of the four types of fallen trees count for the mission to land on burning trees is one of several annoying ambiguities—but on the whole they’re quite fun. They encourage players to live dangerously, luring in the wall of fire and then outracing it again and again.
Jones is, on the whole, a great saviour of kitties, and Jones On Fire is a fun runner. It lacks a bit in the longevity department, but with a little love and a few more environments it could be positively gripping. In the meantime, there’s no reason not to check it out and rescue kitties from the fire. They are cute; they should be saved.
Note: We originally wrote this review over the weekend, moments ago it was announced that the developer is shifting their game from free to play to $1.99 and removing all the IAP. This doesn’t change a whole lot about this review, but it makes it kind of weird as it was played and written in the context of Jones On Fire being a free to play game.