Time to wax nostalgic about the glory days of Flash games again! Ah, ten years ago you could take a gimmick, slap a platformer together around it, toss it on Armor Games and it would probably get some attention. Now all of those games are on Steam, there’s a “discoverability” crisis because there’s too many C- and D-list indie games, none of them are getting any attention and life is hard all around. Sometimes the gimmick platformer thing works, though, and those games somehow still manage to get attention – almost like making a solid game is the secret, right?
Candleman: The Complete Journey, a PC port from the Xbox One original that collects the original game along with its associated DLC and some new touches here and there, is an example of the gimmick platformer done right.
Here’s a new one: you’re a candle! You’re in love with a lighthouse! You’re going to need to get to the lighthouse, but the world you’ll have to get through to manage tends to be dark indeed. As a candle, you’re able to bring a little light to your surroundings…but as a candle, doing that too often could be your doom. Life’s not easy as a candle.
So you’ve got your candle and he’s got two tricks: he can jump and he can light himself. That’s pretty much it. Lighting your candle is both necessary and dangerous; you can’t see without it, of course, but lighted candles tend to melt and a fully melted candle is a dead candle, apparently. I guess that makes sense in terms of candle biology. In any case, this means that cautious use of your limited light is the central mechanic here. Briefly tapping your candle on mid-jump to ensure you’re landing on what you think you’re landing on is a vital trick, for instance. There are other candles to light as well that serve as both checkpoints and as a sort of collection side-quest to add a little more length to the game.
It actually works fairly well! Many of the usual paltformer tropes like moving and disappearing platforms are present; incorporating the limited light thing makes these setpieces a little more interesting. Memorization helps, but the levels aren’t completely pitch black, so this isn’t the equivalent of a whole game of dark Mega Man levels where the wrong step guarantees death. The 5-or-so-hour length also ensures that the gimmick doesn’t outstay its welcome – and it surely would if there were ten hours of this.
Presentation-wise, well…everything tends to be really dark. That’s no surprise, right? This means that the use of light and shadow is the focus of Candleman’s aesthetics and from that perspective this is a great-looking game. With light in such short supply, you’ll rapidly come to appreciate it when it’s present. Your candle is also pretty adorable for what that’s worth, while the plot as presented has a sort of dreamlike feel that calls to mind bedtime stories.
This is a simple mechanic strung out for the length of the usual indie title and, surprisingly, it does a pretty good job. There are a lot of places where this title could have fallen into an unseen pit, but the developers tapped their candles on as they jumped so the frustration factor tends to be pretty low and the game overall is a pleasure to play through. Candleman: The Complete Story isn’t a must-play, but it’s bound to warm the hearts of players who are into this sort of atmospheric and emotional experience.