Puzzle game

Fireworks review: A sweet horror puzzle game that’s as thoughtful as it is sad

Firework was actually released almost exactly a year ago, but the English version (translated from the original Chinese) was released just before Christmas. Which is a good thing, because Firework is worth checking out if you’re interested in horror games or puzzle games. The horror isn’t scary, but rather twisted with grief and grief at how unavoidable it is. Likewise, the puzzles won’t confuse you for long, but they fit into the story very well. These two strands of the game intertwine and create an enjoyable, thoughtful experience that’s worth the roughly four hours.

You play as Lin Lixun, a new police officer on his first case investigating a fire at a funeral in a small mountain town. This soon leads Lixun to a recent family annihilation that was deemed a closed case, where a couple, their daughter-in-law, and their granddaughter were all found dead within months of their son’s death. Lixun, who is able to communicate with the dead, conducts a surreal and chilling investigation into the death of the Tian family to find out what really happened.

Firework is quite simple in its presentation – everything is 2D, and if you can interact with something, a small magnifying glass appears above Lixun’s head. Similarly, puzzle solutions are rarely more than one piece in length and are often found in the same place. They consist, for the most part, in bringing one thing to another. There’s no combination of weird things in your inventory or tracking NPCs. The most enjoyable are when the game gets a bit more abstract – like the puzzle where you figure out how to properly tune a radio, or when later sections have you changing the way the world looks using a camera. But the puzzles also make it feel less about puzzles and more about emotions and story themes as you gradually uncover what happened to the Tian family.

There’s a lot about grief, expectations, parents, superstition, and science. The local teacher and doctor keep popping up doing slightly suspicious things. Lixun’s exploration of the Tian family begins to intersect with her own childhood memories and feelings about her (long-deceased) father. The resolution of the mystery comes with a sort of overwhelming fatality, but also a surprising note of sweetness and hope. There are some truly striking images in Firework that will stick with you, which I won’t spoil here.

There are horror interludes where you play through a doodle in a children’s book, or float down a river like a paper lantern. Even so, the horror itself is pretty mild. There’s no panic, but the coins change when you’re not looking at them. Fixed dolls will appear. An autopsy room becomes host to a sneering tuft of hair.

It’s scary, but Lixun considers it all quite ordinary, even when he’s trapped in a haunted mirror version of the Tian family’s house. The fear is more related to what happened to the Tian family itself, because in a way, it could happen to any family – and indeed it does. The fireworks spin a lot of plates, and it’s worth playing just to see them all held aloft.