Tired of only being in charge of only one character when playing your usual platform titles? Does your usual choice of game restrict you to linear and painfully gradual progression through the levels? Have you ever played as a boy made from fire and a girl that is composed entirely of water? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, or even ‘I don’t know’ then I suggest you point your corneas in the direction of ‘Fireboy & Watergirl 3: The ice temple’. This highly original platform gamer will offer you incredibly challenging puzzles and a dichotomy of characters and will remind you of one of the lessons which you probably shouldn’t ever apply to everyday life: Never mix fire with water.
As someone who likes to dabble in the occasional little bit of musical shin-diggery, I was under the impression that by this stage in my life I could at very least not be unjustified in publicly claiming to have some form rudimentary control over the independent use of my hands. After all, playing both the Piano and Drums requires a certain level of ambidexterity in the use of the right and left appendages and gives the brain some serious functioning to do. Any confidence I previously had in my ability was all but shattered however when I stumbled inelegantly, tripped spectacularly and fell violently to the floor. The offending obstacle was ‘Fireboy & Watergirl 3 – The Ice Temple’, and it made me rethink my definition of what it is to be a good game. It also made me question my own ability to not trip over a virtual flash game that doesn’t exist on the physical plane of reality.
‘Fireboy & Watergirl 3 – The Ice Temple’ is of course a platform game that appears on the surface to possess all the usual characteristics of a standard game of the platform genre, but after scratching even slightly below the surface, you are struck squarely in the face with no less than a metric ton of logical puzzle-based gameplay to add to the already-innovative level design and altogether pleasing premise.
Meet Fireboy and Watergirl, two friends that appear outrageously mismatched to an almost comical degree; with this kind of crazy disparity you would often expect hilarious results. Though I can safely say that no ‘Odd Couple’ situation ensues, the unusual pair exist as physical manifestations of their names, namely a walking ball of fire and drop of water (also with legs) respectively. Don’t worry, Jack Klugman is nowhere to be seen and you will be pleased to learn that the accessible humour/barely-amusing situations of the ‘Odd Couple’ are all but absent from the game. Instead, expect some extremely challenging and outrageously original gameplay that differentiates itself from all other platform games from the very beginning.
I suppose you are expecting a game where you alternate between the two characters, picking your favourite and using them exclusively while the other one (that in your head didn’t quite make the cut for being worthy of gameplay) is left in the dark, unused and unappreciated. This scenario is impossible and will remain a figment of fiction forevermore, because in a break from the traditional restriction of having to play one character at a time, you are presented with the challenge of having to control both characters simultaneously. Furthermore, the progress of one character through each level is inextricably linked to the other, with many challenges, all the way down to the fundamental functional aspects of each level, requiring the use of a character because they possess a property that is unique to them.
Whether you have played the series before or are new to the game, the innovative intricacies of the game require a little explanation. Taking control of both Fireboy and Watergirl, you embark upon an adventure through thirty six different chambers of the Ice Temple, the air conditioning system of which appears to be working a little too well, not to mention the interior decoration which has a retro feel that takes you back to pre-biblical times when structures were really built to last. The two levels at the beginning act as tutorial stages whereby you are furnished with the basics of the game and the particularly unique features (hinted at above) are explained in adequate detail.
Some elements of the previous games remain in this fine instalment; namely, the ability to utilise rays of light for various purposes and also the handy ability to refract this light through the use of angled mirrors. This latter ability makes it possible to perform actions like freeze and melt pools of water and ice in order to make them accessible to the particular character that you need to guide across various hazards and pitfalls within the levels.
The very basics also remain the same, and the fundamental rule for keeping both characters alive and still breathing is to never mix fire and water. If Fireboy is unfortunate to come into contact with a pool of water then the laws of physics apply and he will be extinguished. Conversely, the same applies to Watergirl and her run-ins with pools of fire; it just isn’t recommended if you wish to live a full and healthy gaming life full of gems, success and level completion. The black goo that is often seen throughout the game is hazardous to both characters and should be treated like liquid insta-death (the very same principle that applies to Justin Bieber’s music and work in general).
The controlling of each character adheres fairly strictly to traditional movement control norms; Fireboy is controlled with the directional arrows on the keyboard, while Watergirl’s actions are a result of using the classic ‘WASD’ controls, minus the S due to the two-dimensional nature of the game and the inability to move into the third dimensional across a Z axis of movement. There are no special abilities or control variables to worry your pretty little gaming head about; all necessary actions and functions within the game are made possible through movement alone and are as simple as running into/onto/over the particular switch or pressure plate in question.
The use of levers and switches is pretty much essential to the game and you cannot get further than even the tutorial level without their use. Run into them in whichever direction you wish to push the lever and they will remain in place until you wish to move them again. Levers are responsible for raising and lowering various platforms and also for changing the angle of whatever light-refractor it may be attached to. It will frequently be the case that one character must activate a lever while the other goes ahead to take advantage of its function. It is testament of the game’s unique gameplay that you control them both individually, with the character that originally stayed behind in turn being assisted in his/her progress by the character who continued ahead.
You will also encounter push-buttons which must be held down with force for the function it performs to continue operating; once you step away from the switch, the results of pressing it are reversed. Boxes are often required to be placed on these switches in order to make their functions more permanent. The platforms/variables which correspond to the individual push-switches are usually colour-coded; this may seem unnecessary in the early stages but with the increasing complexity of the later levels, it is often of paramount importance to remember exactly which of the switches performs a particular action.
There are some functions which are unique to this game that were absent from the previous titles. Firstly, Fireboy is able to slide with daring speed across snow and ice. Sadly, Watergirl didn’t get the cold weather training memo and is unable to turn lengths of snow and ice into an opportunity for a cheeky bit of extreme sports; instead, she is only able to trudge at a painfully slow pace across the affected areas. She is able to walk (albeit at an embarrassing pace) up snowy slopes where Fireboy fails spectacularly to do so, though neither can jump once on these surfaces. As you can imagine, the game has some very interesting level designs that take full advantage of these relative abilities and debilitating inabilities, requiring conjoined-twin levels of co-operation that were last seen in the show ‘Catdog’ to further the animated comedy fun.
The overall challenge of the game is to get both characters to their respective exit doors in the least possible amount of time. You cannot complete or exit the level without both characters reaching their exit points, making co-operation and understanding of the levels of principal importance to your success within them. As you move through the levels you can also collect gems (the colours of which correspond to each character and you can only collect the gems that are of the colour that matches). The total number of gems collected is coupled with the speed in which you managed collect them and make off with the spoil (i.e. exit the level); it is from these deductions that your final score is decided. Grades are given from A to C depending on the time taken and number of gems collected.
Such is the potential for the replay value of the game that by simply attempting to achieve the highest grade on each level, one would witness the average flash-game connoisseur being occupied until the time they wish to surrender and pursue the use of a step-by-step walkthrough (there’s no shame in it, just give in to the temptation and save yourself an epic amount of frustration at http://jayisgames.com/archives/2012/04/fireboy_and_watergirl_3_ice_temple.php). I’ll admit that the game also had me coming back for more, and even at the early stages forced my hand into locating a guide that held my incapable hands through the incredibly exasperating yet demanding action.
It is in the simple yet beautifully-designed level-select menu that the game manages to show off one of the many facets of excellence that it possesses. The levels are graphically represented at designated points on a snowflake-shaped structure and do not appear in ascending order. Instead, you are able to unlock several levels at a time and can choose to take on any of them that you desire. This stops you from becoming frustrated at the idea of being stuck on one particular level, allowing you to regroup by taking on a fresh challenge. I had to frequently put levels on the shelf for my own sanity and also the safety of all expensive objects within throwing range.
Replay value is also to be found in the dual-character function itself. If you find yourself a little overwhelmed, then firstly I would say to put things into context since you are just playing a flash game here. Secondly, I would recommend that you control each character individually and alternate between the two, breaking down the individual puzzles and concentrating more on surviving than on attempting to beat the clock. If you fancy a little bit of help, then you can theoretically turn the game into an off-the-books multiplayer experience by asking someone else with as much free time as you to control one of the characters. This act would of course void the warranty of the game if it were to actually have one.
I’d like to enter evidence into the record that I have never before had the pleasure of playing a platform game that is so original, fiendishly addictive and frustratingly challenging to the point of causing issues of anger management. It manages to possess these three properties simultaneously by managing to exist equidistantly between being easy to grasp yet difficult to master; a trait that many game designers constantly aspire to yet so often fail to achieve.
The game consists of a simple set of rules and variables which increase in difficulty from level to level, offering progressively more challenging gameplay as you advance, while never quite becoming repetitive or even close to boring. You will often need to use some purely logical thought, and at times will be required to combine this thought with some refined dexterity, masterful timing and general proficiency in the platform genre of games. The game possesses no shortage of intricacy in its challenges and, much like me, is relatively low on sympathy for those who do not have the patience to persevere with the challenge. I wish you the best of luck, though this probably won’t be enough to even get you past the initial stages. From these words onwards, you’re on your own.