At first blush Muse Games’ Embr put us in mind of riotous slapstick comedy titles such as Overcooked and Tarsier Games’ excellent The Stretchers. This is a bright and colourful multiplayer-focused mess of firefighting carnage that also presents itself as a wry satirical take on the state of 21st Century capitalism. It’s got the wonky physics, silly voice-acting, ridiculous stage layouts and upgrades that scream “this is all going to be a lot of over the top fun!” However, in reality it’s all a bit of a damp squib.
The first thing we should mention about this Switch port of Embr is that we could not, over six full days of trying, find more than precisely two online games to join, both of which only had one other player in their lobby. Yes, you can arrange to play four player with a few Switch-owning friends — there is no splitscreen local multiplayer here — but the most immediate and easy option for finding other people to party up with in Embr is, judging by our experience, an absolute bust. Both the PC and Xbox versions (and we’re assuming the Stadia version) support cross platform play, but the Switch version is missing this feature and it hurts the experience big time.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to play Embr in multiplayer. All of its stages can be completed solo, which is how we were left to make our way through this one, but it very evidently loses so much of what would make it a properly chaotic laugh when you’re left to charge through burning buildings alone. It begins to grate more than entertain, with its various flaws all the more evident when you don’t have the silliness of other people around to help you ignore them.
As you soldier on and dig into your firefighting career solo you’re presented with three different areas of a city, each of which has a bunch of jobs to take on, starting out with simple rescue affairs that charge you with pulling a handful of “clients” out of an inferno, right up to escape missions that see you flee multi-storey towers and a handful of (pretty terrible) boss battles.
Completing missions in Embr earns you stars and you’ll need a certain amount of these in order to progress forward onto higher level excursions. All in all it took us about three hours to make our way through every level here, a time that would have been a bit shorter if we hadn’t spent quite a lot of it stuck in one particularly frustrating boss encounter that suffers due to the game’s imprecise controls. Slapping a snarky Canadian with a flaming barrel from range in this game, it turns out, is entirely pot luck.
Let’s not be entirely negative though, the basic framework is sound here. There are more than enough missions — especially for the budget price — and each one unlocks a variety of different ways to play once you beat it for the first time. Your first run through a building may be a rescue attempt, but you can then choose to go again in modes that see you salvage as much as possible from a building before it collapses, rescue a special object for a client, deliver food to an inferno, or burn houses down while clearing out toxic barrels. They all play very similarly, make no mistake, but it’s enough that, had we been playing with pals, we’re sure we’d have knocked a fair bit of fun out of it all.
There’s also a decent selection of upgrades and cosmetics to buy from the in-game store with money you earn for successful sorties. You can upgrade your hose power, grab an ice accelerator, deployable sprinklers, breaching charges, throwing axes, a grappling hook, jump pads, slides, parachutes and trampolines. However, in reality, most of these fun little add-ons provide little to no actual benefits as once you’re inside a building — once a fire is raging — the only real option we found you have here is to grab clients or items as quickly as you can, ignore the flames and get in and out with the minimum of fuss.
Perhaps this is because we were playing solo, but we found that taking any extra time on a level here ended in failure, we did very little actual firefighting, instead moving quickly, using our Client Findr to ascertain the whereabouts of people in danger and whipping them out as quickly as we could. It feels like the game doesn’t give you long enough in scenarios to actually settle in and have fun with your tools or the silly physics at play. It can also prove to be unnecessarily frustrating as imprecise controls make climbing stairs, lifting and placing objects and manoeuvring through hazards a bit of a pain. Yes, we get that placing ladders and watching them fall over is all part of the fun, but plummeting two storeys to the ground outside a building because your character can’t walk up steps reliably… yeah, not so much.
There are a handful of other hazards introduced during the game, too (toxic clouds that can be cleared by using a fan or opening a window and electrical faults that need to be shut off at their source, for example), but we found that you can just run through most of these, take the hit and avoid working out the simple puzzle at hand. It smacks of poor balance — these things should be insta-kill scenarios or at the very least take off so much health that you don’t dare barge through them by choice.
Again, as we type this, we feel as though we’ve missed out on a lot of the potential fun we could have been having here because we were forced to play entirely solo, perhaps having a friend to work with would transform these irritations into situations that illicit a laugh. It’s hard to say, and it’s shame, because as long as the online multiplayer aspect of Embr is a bust, it’s tough to really recommend you pick it up. Played solo, this is a forgettable and rather irritating experience that just doesn’t come together in the way it should do.
Embr has the potential to be a good time, a slapstick bit of carnage with friends that provides a decent amount of missions to blast through and plenty of unlockables and variations on modes to keep you and your party of first responders busy. However, on Switch this potential goes almost entirely unrealised as the online component of the game is a bust. Get a few Switch-owning friends to set up a match and you may find some fun here but without crossplay, and factoring in a few other gameplay irritations, this one is quite hard to recommend on Nintendo’s console.