As cool and as retro as Atari VCS/2600 games are, not all of them were super great. Some stood out for their simple challenge while others could actually be pretty boring. Much like the incredible box art that often illustrated the packaging for these square pieces of plastic containing interactive worlds, they sometimes were more interesting than the actual game.
Imagic’s titles stood out not only for their silvery boxes and box art that opted for actual miniatures, photographic backdrops, and costumed models embellished with special effects. They were slices of arcade fun that anyone could sit down with and simply play for only a few minutes or attempt to break a personal record or two. But as much as the boxes tried to make every title an exciting portal for players’ reflexes, not all of them lived up to the silvery foil.
Fire Fighter was one of those titles. The premise was pretty simple — a player had to put out fires that would fill up the windows of a building. They controlled a fire fighter that ran along the bottom of the building and blasted the burning windows with a vertical jet of water. They also had to rescue a person that would be trapped by the flames and would come down only after the fires were extinguished. At that point, the player needed to raise, their truck’s ladder, or adjust it for the right floor, and then climb it to help them escape.
There was a small bar measuring how much water you had left to work with and a clock counted the seconds it took for you to rescue the victim. And that was pretty much it. There’s no real score, only a measure of how quickly you could make the rescue. Players could also adjust how big a building they would face and how quickly the flames could spread to make their jobs more difficult.
The man being rescued can’t die, even if the fires filled up all the windows. Eventually they’ll die down and put themselves out allowing the guy to go all the way down to the first floor for an easy rescue. That was it. It was basically one big time trial that didn’t so much test your reflexes as it did your patience and your ability to adjust that ladder.
Despite how boring the game was, others would later prove how fun the concept could be with the right ideas. U.S. Games’ movie tie-in, Towering Inferno which also came out for Atari’s console in the same year, tested the reflexes of the player in a top-down, floor-by-floor assault on a skyscraper.
Sega’s Sonic Team would also take on the concept with their Saturn game, Burning Rangers in 1998, which took place in a future where fire fighters were geared up with high-tech equipment such as jet packs. Sega would also release an arcade machine in 1999 called Brave Firefighters. It was contained inside a fairly elaborate cabinet with a fire hydrant prop in front and two “hoses” with adjustable nozzles attached to it that acted as the virtual “guns” for shooting the flames on a huge monitor screen.
If you’re curious about playing Fire Fighter yourself, you can try it out via Virtual Atari’s java console along with a number of other Atari classics including retro-inspired remakes like Halo. Fire Fighter wasn’t quite one of Imagic’s best moments, but judging from the ad above, it at least had one fan who couldn’t put the game down.