Once in a while, a game comes along that manages to paint an emotional story with very little words, and without any human characters with which to form a bond with. If a game succeeds in making you care about an inanimate object, a candle for example, through gameplay and minimal story, then that is a pretty unique game. Spotlightor Interactive’s Candleman may have managed to do just that and has finally made the jump over to Europe, following a release in China last year.
Unsurprisingly, Candleman is the story of a candle, but perhaps a little more surprising is that it does in fact, have a certain kind of story to it. Spoken by a female narrator, and continued throughout the actual names of the levels themselves, Candleman tells the story of a little candle who longs to burn as bright as the big lighthouse he can see off in the distance. You take control of this candle on his journey to fulfil his destiny, making your way through a ship, grasslands and then finally climbing the lighthouse itself. The levels are dark, and you must burn your flame to light your way, unfortunately, the candle can only burn for 10 seconds each level before it perishes. A unique yet simple story that is told sparingly, but still manages to be engaging, forcing you to care about helping this candle succeed in his journey.
Candleman: Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Spotlightor Interactive
Publisher: E-Home Entertainment
Release Date: 1 February 2017
Price: £11.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The game itself is a fairly short one, with 9 chapters containing groups of levels, varying between 3 and 7 per chapter. You could be finished with the game in a few short hours if you rush through it, and adding a few extra levels or chapters here would not have gone amiss. The levels themselves vary in length, with some straight forward and short, whereas later levels become progressively trickier while growing in length. Each level design is largely varied though, and you’ll need to grasp a handful of skills in order to get to the end of the level without succumbing to death, which can happen in a number of ways.
Candleman‘s various environments offer different challenges along your journey, and while you may breeze through the earlier ship levels, the lighthouse levels are significantly harder. The obvious hazards range from falling off the edge or burning out your candle entirely, but there’s also drowning in water, being squashed by spiky plants and, ironically, being burned to death. Combining these hazards with the usual platforming parts of jumping from platform to platform offer an interesting and exciting game to play through, that always seems to contain just the right amount of challenge, never too hard or too easy.
Rather than merely running through the levels, you’ll want to keep your eye out for specific hidden candles along the way in addition to blue candles, that serve as checkpoints, and since you can only die 10 times a level before having to start it all over, these can be real lifesavers on the latter stages. Hidden candles are scattered about the level, often off the beaten path, and you must make sure you reserve some of your flame in order to light them up. There’s a tracker for how many of these you’ve lit each level, and lighting them all unlocks an extra line in the story. It also adds to the time you’ll spend on each of the levels, and completionists will want to make sure they are lighting all of them as they progress.
For a game that is dark due to its very nature, Candleman still manages to be pretty and minimalistic. The levels may be sparse but beautifully laid out in front of you and the game really shines when moving from the ship to the brighter, more colourful flower-filled grasslands, it’s just a shame that you only see this in minor parts due to the preservation of light. Candleman‘s theme is brilliantly accompanied by a suitably eerie soundtrack, that might not always be at the forefront of the game, but serves as the perfect background noise to the candles “tip tap” footsteps.
Candleman boasts simple controls that allow you to jump straight in, making it a pleasure for any gamer to play along, whatever their experience with the genre. The dark nature of the game means that there is a little bit of guesswork involved in finding the right path, but this remains part of the fun, and helps to up the difficulty and counteract the short length of the story. Once shadows, enemies and mirrors come into play, the difficulty spike is truly felt, and the final level offers a whole change of pace to the game, but I won’t spoil that.
Candleman manages to make you care about an inanimate object whilst offering little story in which to bond with it, and this is one of the game’s best qualities. The story is sparse but emotional and is echoed by the game’s environments and levels. While largely accessible, the later levels do have a noticeable difficulty spike, but still keep the game at the fun level. The most obvious negative surrounding the game is its short length, and I would have loved to have spent more time with it or had some epilogue levels to run through to discover what happens after the story has ended. Overall, Candleman is a short but thoroughly enjoyable experience that will long burn in your memory.