I heard that Fantastic 4: Flame On was better than the first Fantastic Four game released for the Game Boy Advance, but I was still keeping my expectations low when I started playing this game. The first one wasn’t very good, and neither were the films that these games were based on.
Well, let’s see if the game met the low bar that I had for it.
Fantastic 4: Flame On is an action platformer that was developed by Torus Games and published by Activision. Unlike most games based on the Fantastic Four, this title is focused on Johnny Storm, A.K.A. the Human Torch. I initially thought that this game was based on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer but this was actually based on the first Fantastic Four movie. In fact, the events of the game take place in the middle of the film, right after Reed starts testing Johnny’s capabilities and before they confront Victor Von Doom.
The premise of the game revolves around the Skrulls wanting to abduct Torch because they want to obtain his newfound cosmic powers. For some reason, they can detect it from him but not from the other three members of the team. No one else believes Johnny that there are Skrulls on Earth, so he takes them on himself. I loved this storyline direction a lot. It works well for the character, and the dialogue between Torch and other people (who think he’s playing some prank) is hilarious.
You’ve got a health meter in this game and you have unlimited lives and continues. Every time you die, you get sent back to the beginning of the level or to the farthest checkpoint that you were able to find. As a reference to the film, health refills come in the form of a nurse. This is the most unique idea for a health item that I’ve ever seen. And it’s funny to keep seeing nurses even in remote locations. The game does not have any difficulty options, and it’s got a save system with three slots. Finally, the game has a New Game+ option.
Moves and Abilities
In Fantastic 4: Flame On, Torch can move to the left and right via the D-Pad, and he can jump too. There is no crouching in this game. To attack, he can do punches, and tapping the attack button several times will result in a multi-hit combination.
Pressing Down and attack will make Johnny hurl fireballs. These’ll come out as fast as you can spam attack. You can do this in the air too, and you stay in place as you’re tossing fireballs. However, you can only shoot these forward.
Pressing B, A, and the D-Pad does a torpedo attack. You can aim this in all eight directions, including diagonals. This move damages all the enemies in your path, but you’ll still take damage from attacks while doing the move. You can only do this once, then you’ll need to touch the ground before you can do this again.
Torch can also do boosts by pressing the jump button in mid-air together with the D-Pad. You can aim this in all eight directions too. This is purely for movement, so you won’t deal damage to enemies with this. At the start of the game, you can only do this once per jump but through the upgrade system, you can do this up to five times. This works similarly to how Torch learns how to fly in the movies.
Finally, Torch has two special attacks that use up the circular power meter. The Supernova is an all-screen clear attack, while the Inferno is a beam of fire. The power meter fills up each time you attack an enemy, and you start each level with four bars full.
The Upgrade System
Seeing an upgrade system in Fantastic 4: Flame On was a surprise. At certain points in the game, you would be awarded one upgrade point that you can spend on upgrading either your health, punch and inferno damage, fireball and supernova damage, or charge damage and get additional boosts.
And you know what? On your first playthrough, you won’t be able to upgrade everything. So you really have to pick which areas to strengthen, which will change your game experience somewhat. I prioritized upgrading the flight boosts so that I could fully explore the game’s large stages. This made battles quite hard for me in the end, especially some of the boss battles.
You can choose the upgrades that will fit your playstyle well. Do you like fighting from a distance using your fireballs? Maybe you’d like to play it safe and get more health early in the game? This upgrade system fits the game’s mechanics quite well.
Fantastic Boss Battles
I will always say this about superhero games: the boss battles are very important. When someone plays a superhero game, they want to feel like the superhero that they’re taking control of, and there’s no better way to feel that than through battling their villains. The first half of Fantastic 4: Flame On was a bit disappointing, because it only offered generic Skrulls as end stage bosses.
Soon though, I started facing off against actual supervillains. And the characters chosen to be bosses are very deep cuts. People who aren’t fans of Marvel Comics probably won’t know these characters, but I recognized them all. You’ll face Dragon Man, Terrax, and Galactus in this game. Galactus!
The Galactus fight in particular was a good one, and so was the final boss fight. And yes, I won’t spoil who the final boss of this game is. This game would have been much better with a few more known villains as boss fights, maybe have some other known Skrulls in the game.
In addition to the standard platforming stages, Fantastic 4: Flame On features levels that use different play mechanics. There are a number of flying sections that play as a horizontal side shooter, with you tossing fireballs as attacks.
These stages play well and there’s even one flying stage with a heat seeking missile chasing after Johnny, which keeps you pushing forward and giving you just a small space to work with. My only complaint when it comes to these sections is that there are a lot of enemies that will attack you from behind, and there’s no way to shoot backwards.
Referencing some events in the film are two other special stages. The first one is a snowboarding section wherein you have to get to the finish line before the nurse does. This is a vertical scrolling section that moves downwards, following your descent from the slopes. The other special stage involves stunt cycling. You have to do some basics stunts (press the D-Pad in different directions) before you land on the ground to gain points. Both stages can be unlocked as mini games that you can access from the Options menu.
Issues with Repetitiveness
Unfortunately, it’s not all positive with Fantastic 4: Flame On. I had fun playing the game for the most part, but there were moments when the game felt that it dragged on. One of the reasons why I felt this way was because of the lack of enemy variety. You face four different types of Skrulls in the game. One does melee attacks, another shoots at you with laser beams, the third launches grenades at you and the fourth has a jetpack that also shoots at you. These have palette swap variants with more health.
Later on, you’ll start facing large robots. Guess what they do? One robot fights with melee attacks. Another shoots missiles at you that travel straight forward. The third shoots homing projectiles at you. They fight and behave in the same way as the Skrulls do. Fighting them over and over and over does become boring later on.
Some lackluster level design, especially in the later stages, doesn’t help. The game’s best stages are the ones with different corridors to go through and get you to actually move around. Unfortunately, a lot of the later stages are just big empty areas with platforms in between. You’re just passing through the stage, making your way to the right, choosing which elevation to be at. Some of these stages are quite long, too.
Visuals, Sounds, and Presentation
I’m so glad that the developers of this game went back to traditional graphics, because the sprites in Fantastic 4: Flame On look so good! The Human Torch himself is well animated, and the developers even made a regular sprite for Johnny. Enemies are quite recognizable too. They even made sprites for the other members of the Fantastic Four, which made me want an expanded version that features them as playable characters too.
This also extends to the game’s stages. Everything looks so detailed, especially the backgrounds. The developers did a great job in choosing different locations. Just look at how many different colors are being used in the screenshots that I took for this write up!
In terms of music, this game has decent music that does it’s job at making the game entertaining to play. The highlights though are in the voice clips that they included. Johnny says his trademark “Flame On!” catchphrase at the beginning of each stage. The Skrull captives yell out “Thank you!” or “Thanks Johnny!” whenever you free them. This game is just fun to listen to.
As for presentation, this game is quite polished with a lot of nice flourishes, such as Johnny’s health meter being made up of flames. There are a lot of cutscenes with well-written dialogue that captures Chris Evans’ take on the character in the film quite well. Reading the exchanges between him, the villains, and other characters made me laugh at times.
While Fantastic 4: Flame On does suffer from repetitiveness and lackluster level design, I enjoyed playing it for the most part. It’s so funny seeing the Torch having trouble convincing other people that the Skrulls are actually after him, or looking for nurses to get healed. It also feels good to play as the Human Torch, with him zipping in the air back and forth. And his dialogue helped me get really immersed in the game.
I liked this game a lot despite some levels that felt like a slog, so I’m going to say that this is a hidden gem on the Game Boy Advance. It may not be as good as the best action platformers on the GBA, but it’s really good at capturing what a Human Torch solo adventure is. If you’re a fan of superhero video games, and especially if you’re a fan of the Fantastic Four, you should definitely check this game out.