Could the video game Snake be improved by setting the snake's tail on fire? Of course!
Flametail is a recent downloadable release for the Nintendo DSi's DSiWare service, which means that you are about to read about a game that gets less press than your fingernail clippings. You are reading about a game that is part of a marvelous group of old-school sci-fi games on DSiWare, a cluster that also includes Starship Defense, Link n Launch and X-Scape. This time you'll be piloting a spaceship that pulls a tail of fire. Your mission is to fly that tail past space junk —and hope that space junk burns away before a penalty line at the rear of the game's scrolling canvas catches any junk or flame that hasn't yet been exhausted to blackness.
It's like you're playing Snake and the snake is both on fire and on the verge of being caught by the tail.
Another Stupidly Simple Smart Idea: Flametail is a very clever puzzle game. It has this pure gameplay mechanic of pulling a tail of flame, mixed with a smart line-by-line Tetris style progression. You fly one square at a time on the game's stellar grid levels. Each step of progress moves that penalty line one square closer; each step forward scrolls the level further along. The junk you need to burn, however, is littered like a maze. The player needs to fly their ship (read: snake on fire) well enough to ignite each clump without getting stuck in a dead end or suffer other problems. Fly by that junk to briskly and you'll barely touch it aflame. That will make the junk take a long time to burn off, risking the penalty line catching up to it. Spend too much time dousing each corner of space junk in flame and you risk having your own flame tail being caught by the penalty line. You can just sit and wait and nothing will happen. You have time to think, because nothing will move until you move again.
One Hand Applauding: The game is played with the DSi held sideways (book-style), and pretty much only the d-pad and a single action button is needed. Even the menu navigation is all d-pad. This makes Flametail one of the easiest games to play while holding onto the railing of a rickety bus or subway. The need to press the A button to activate special power-ups is an ergonomic inconvenience, but because the game doesn't advance until you push the d-pad again, it's little hassle. You can take your time reaching for the A button.
Sci-Fi Renaissance: There was a time when simple sci-fi themed games littered our consoles like so much space junk (uh, in a positive way!). Now we have so many realistic games or fantasy games that it is rare to get a new you-are-a-spaceship-with-this-weird-new-ability kind of game. Not on DSiWare where Flametail is part of a fun batch of space games.
The good and bad of Flametail is that you may already own it. It was released in simpler form as one third of Maboshi's Arcade, a WiiWare game from a couple of years back. Good thing that was obscure too! But is it worth the expense of a $5 game locked to your DSi? It has a lot of levels presented as both a linear "Space Tour" rush through various planet-themed stages as well as a variety of time-limited side games involving special layouts and power-ups. Flametail has a good mechanic, a nice helping of content and even some fun sound effects. It's good, if you don't mind that it's a riff on Snake you may already own.
Flametail was developed by Mindware and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo DSi's DSiWare downloadable service on June 7. Retails for $5.00 USD. A code to redeem the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played the space tour out to Jupiter, unlocked several side levels.
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