A candle’s flame can only burn for so long before it’s inevitably extinguished. Such is the life of one of history’s oldest and most beloved light sources, which has provided sight and atmosphere to some of humanity’s biggest moments.
Thinking outside of the box has led to a solitary candle being the hero in one of the Xbox One’s latest and more noteworthy winter releases. All of this is thanks to Spotlightor Interactive, who have created an endearing, memorable and visually impressive little indie game called Candleman.
Developed in Beijing, of all places, Candleman is a game that stands out for more than just its quality campaign. After all, China is a place where video game consoles were banned until 2015, and where video game development isn’t as big or as welcomed as it is in other parts of the world. For those reasons, Candleman – like Koi before it – is a welcomed sight and something to embrace.
So, outside of being based around a candle, what is this title all about?
Beginning on a desolate, beached, and somewhat destroyed ship; Candleman’s quest is one of adventure. It starts with a once dormant little stick of wax catching flame in front of a mirror, then leads to the normally inanimate creature waxing poetic about his existence before setting out to find answers.
It’s not long after this that a bright and distant lighthouse is seen through one of the ship’s many portholes, infusing our basic and dimly lit friend with wonder and excitement. Immediately after, he sets out on a journey towards the man-made beacon, with hope of learning how to shine as brightly as it does.
Over the course of Candleman’s three to four hour-long journey, he’s faced with a plethora of different obstacles, many of which threaten his very existence. Early on, the most pressing challenges are that of darkness and dangerous chasms, but later levels change things up by introducing ghastly enemies, mirrors and spiky plants. No new world is the same in Candleman, whether it’s the creaky ship’s storage area with its swaying boxes and their chains, the boat’s flame-filled engine room, or the outside world with its water, lily pads, vines and thorns.
The result is a slightly challenging title that mixes platforming with light puzzle solving and requires precision-based jumping. Thankfully though, the game engine and all of its mechanics are almost always up to the task, making it easy for the player to become one with his wax-based friend. That’s not to say that things are perfect, though, because bits of lag will sometimes mar your adventure, especially later on in the campaign when enemies are introduced and stages become more complex.
However, despite its imperfections and short length, Candleman stands out for what it is and what it does well, not to mention its origins and unique protagonist. It’s not often that we get to play games from China, nor is it common for a candle to star in a video game. The developers also deserve credit for their unique approach to platforming, as their decision to make light a focus was a very good one.
How exactly does light factor in? Well, as I mentioned before, darkness is a common obstacle, especially during the ship section of the game. There, in the shadowy hull of the boat, there’s next to no light and it’s always at a premium. This is where being a candle becomes an asset, as Candleman is able to light himself at will and use it to his advantage. Furthermore, this limited flame can also be utilized to light other stationary candles that help you see your way, act as collectibles, and are sometimes used as checkpoints.
Where the added challenge comes from then, is the fact that our small candle friend can only burn for a limited amount of time before he fades away to nothing. This ten-second time limit means that every time you light up it must be for a strategic reason, else you risk leaving yourself at a great disadvantage. And, while death isn’t a be all, end all type of thing, each level attempt only offers the player ten lives.
Light can also affect the environment in negative ways, by making dangerous flowers bloom and spiky balls fall from the sky. As such, it’s always important to time your flame bursts and always be aware of the environment.
That said, Candleman’s design isn’t always so strong. As you enter the last third of the game, things become more dangerous and less fun. The gameplay also ends up being more about the environment than about using light to your advantage, thus reducing its uniqueness. Furthermore, the final encounter and following finale leave something to be desired, as they offer a less than satisfying conclusion.
All of the above is wrapped up in and presented in a way that resembles a classic storybook. Each of the game’s stages are titled using verses from Candleman’s rhyming story, and a female British narrator does an excellent job of setting the tables for each and every level event. Outside of this audio however, there’s little to be found apart from environmental sound effects. That’s a good thing, though.
It’s too bad that lag is present, because outside of that, there’s little to complain about on the visual front. Candleman is a good-looking game, and one that will please those who play it, especially anyone who’s aware of its origins as a Chinese indie game. While it won’t win any graphics-based awards, it’s a bonafide looker that almost always impresses. The lag can really mar this at times, though, especially when it becomes more prevalent near the end of the campaign.
Now, with all that having been said, I surely don’t need to say that Candleman is a recommended must have experience, but I will though. Despite having a few faults, it definitely deserves attention and love, because it’s solid, memorable and generally well made game.