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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hot Lava is a running and jumping action game available for download for Windows PCs and through Apple Arcade. The game is set in the imaginary world of a child who imagines he (or she) is an action figure and that the surrounding floors are covered in molten rock. The character runs and leaps from object to object, using impressive parkour and gymnastics skills to keep off the lava. The context and action are a clear celebration of childhood imagination and youthful excitement, though there's a slight sense of danger, since touching the lava results in failure (presumably death) as the player's action figure sinks into the molten rock. Players will also encounter some mild violence in the lengthy opening movie, which is presented as a retro action kids' cartoon and involves kicking, punching, and a cyborg dolphin being shot out of a bazooka. Note, too, that the experience is significantly less frustrating when you're using a traditional gamepad as opposed to a phone or tablet's touchscreen.
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What's it about?
HOT LAVA begins with a lengthy movie that serves as homage to and parody of retro action cartoons, with a team of heroes trying to keep one of its members from falling under the spell of a dastardly villain. As the camera pulls out, players see that they're actually in the role of a kid watching the show and playing with action figures. He (or she) suddenly imagines himself as one of their action figures and begins pretending the floor of the living room is covered in lava. This is where the game starts. You have to hop around objects to stay off the floor while moving around the house. If you fall in, you burst into flames and sink (presumably melting), then start over from the nearest checkpoint. This concept is the core of the game, with perilous courses created within familiar everyday environments, such as a school gymnasium and a playground. The objective is always simply to make it to the end of the course, but you can grab optional collectibles along the way -- unlocking bonuses such as comic book stories and sticker collections -- and new elements are gradually added as the game progresses. In addition to deftly jumping between furniture and fixtures, you can swing from ropes, grab hold of pipes, and even stick to and run briefly along walls. Within a couple of hours, you'll likely begin feeling like a parkour expert as you navigate perilous environments with skill and grace.
Is it any good?
This isn't the sort of game destined to be a mainstream hit. It shouldn't be too hard for most players to get into Hot Lava's aesthetic, which is full of humorous visual details that serve as a love letter to retro cartoons, comics, and childhood playtime. But other parts of the game will likely prove a bit off-putting for many people, starting with the controls. First-person parkour games that require players to make accurate, well-timed leaps always come with the risk of frustration, and that remains true here. Controlling the direction of and timing of leaps is essential when aiming for platforms, pipes, ropes, bars, and other objects, and it's regrettably easy to misjudge where your avatar's feet are, meaning missed jumps are pretty common. Thankfully, punishment for failure isn't too harsh -- you instantly respawn at nearby checkpoints -- but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to stomach repeated mistakes.
Compounding these problems are the controls. If you're playing with a traditional gamepad, it's no more difficult than other such first-person running and jumping games. But playing with touchscreen controls affects accuracy, which can prove extremely challenging. This won't be a problem for people playing on Mac, PC, or Apple TV, but players who want to use a phone could be turned off from the entire experience simply because they never feel relaxed moving and jumping (it's worth adding that you can use a Bluetooth gamepad to play on your phone, though this may be impractical depending on the setting). Hot Lava is imaginative and funny and bases its action on skilled movement rather than combat, but the deciding factor for most will be whether they can find a way to get comfortable with the controls.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen time. Most of the courses in Hot Lava are short, but they can take time to master. If you have limited time to play, would you rather spend it mastering a level or playing as many levels as you can?
What sorts of things do you like to imagine? Do you ever use your imagination to help you solve real-world problems?
- Platforms: Apple Arcade, Windows
- Price: $14.99
- Pricing structure: Paid (Free with Apple Arcade subscription, which is $4.99/month.)
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- Release date: September 20, 2019
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures
- ESRB rating: NR for No Descriptions
- Last updated: July 17, 2020
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