You know you're getting on a bit when you come to an old beloved childhood TV show like Fireman Sam, and don't recognise 90% of the cast. Since when has the fire engine been called Jupiter (pretty sure it was always called that - maybe your mind's going in your old age too? - Ed)? And all these other firefighting vehicles? Back in the day we just had a no-nonsense fire engine and that was it. Suddenly Pontypandy has a coastline too - when did that happen? Dilys looks totally different, and the loveable Italian Bella seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth (perhaps to open her own chain of high street Itailian restaurants), and now there's a fire station dog too. And let's not even talk about that sacrilegious new theme tune…
But, at 27 years old as of a few weeks ago, we concede that we're perhaps not Fireman Sam's target audience any more - we'll leave that to our younger cousins and such, who lap up Pontypandy's favourite fireman's antics like they snaffle dolly mixtures when they think you're not looking. With more than a passing interest in anything game related, a Fireman Sam-themed collection is the sort of thing that'll be right up their street, providing it doesn't fall into the all-too-common trap of being too complicated for it's target audience. Few publishers seem to manage to get the balance just right, but thankfully GSP seem to be one of the few that mostly aim at the right sort of level - and it looks like their latest, Fireman Sam: To The Rescue continues the trend.
Fireman Sam: To The Rescue is a collection of nine simple mini-games decked out with Fireman Sam characters - there's a simple match three game, a round of connect four against Elvis and a spot of touch-screen tapping firefighting, as well as a somewhat silly game in which you have to bounce cats from a tree and into a waiting vet van. Generally speaking, they're all fairly straight-forward and self-explanatory, and the sort of things kids will play over and over ad nauseam, particularly if they're big Fireman Sam fans.
As you'd likely expect, some of the games are more complex than others, with the intention of covering a reasonable range of the younger ages. One sees you moving a fire engine to 'catch' items as they move down a conveyor belt, with each different item having to land in a specific portion of the fire engine. In theory, it's fairly simple, but the speed at which things move up the screen gives you little time to shuffle your vehicle to catch them. Little ones may also take a bit longer to get the hang of the match-3 game, too, given that it works in a bit of a different way to Bejewelled et al, as you can switch tiles as much as you want without having to make a match. While it does allow you to move the specific piece you want from one end of the screen to another to make an easy match, the fact it's different to the 'standard' could cause a bit of confusion.
But perhaps the best part of the game is its story mode - three short 'scenarios' that essentially form 'a day in the life' of Sam and the gang. From putting out forgotten campfires to cleaning up after a cargo ship at sea to saving cats from trees, each of the three individual stories attempts to tie four or five separate mini-games together into a more coherent tale. But with only nine games to choose from, they can sometimes feel a little samey, particularly as each one begins in much the same way, tapping the firemen as they slide down the pole to speed them up a bit, and each one has a version of the match three game thrown in too. Still, it's nice to have a story mode that's fully narrated for younger children, meaning that everyone, regardless of reading ability, can enjoy the game - although somewhat illogically, the actual instructions for what to do in each mini-game are done through unspoken text, and it's not always immediately obvious what you need to do to progress.
Once unlocked via a run through of story mode, you can then play any of the nine mini-games to your hearts content over in the free play mode, setting new high scores and tackling harder difficulties. With a choice of easy, medium and hard for the mini-games, children of varying abilities should be able to find one they're comfortable with, with increasing levels speeding up characters and conveyor belts, adding in more obstacles to dodge, or more pipe pieces to rotate to make things more challenging.
As a themed mini-game collection for young fans, Fireman Sam: To The Rescue is another solid game from the folks at GSP - a few of the mini-games are perhaps a touch on the fast-paced side for the youngest of the young, and a lack of narration for instructions is an issue, but all in all they'll find a lot to like here. The narrated story mode is a particular highlight, tying together a handful of mini-games into a Fireman Sam-themed mission, along the lines of what they'll know from the TV show.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS