Review: Candleman

Disclosure: A code for Candleman was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by E-Home Entertainment.

Visual powerhouses, showcasing grandiose set pieces and over the top experiences, are often used to sell a game and get people to buy a console. However, not all games should be judged on what is purely seen. Some games go the extra mile to offer merely a glimpse of what is, and then afford gamers the opportunity to stretch their imaginations. Candleman is one such game out now on Xbox One. Limiting what is seen not only plays to the strength of the game’s core mechanic, but also intrinsically ties player action to their death if an overabundance of light is used.

In Candleman, players control a walking candle that can jump and ignite/extinguish its wick. Each level only allows players to burn the wick for ten cumulative seconds before the candle itself burns out and dies, challenging players to consider the risk-reward of lighting the flame to fully reveal the environment and navigating around obstacles in the dark, while also trying to not burn out and die.

Beginning on a ship at sea, the title character sees a lighthouse in the distance and yearns to be as bright and grand as the shining beacon. The journey to reach the top of the lighthouse is what makes Candleman so dark and yet beautiful at the same time. Moving from the boat to the lighthouse brings the candle through nine distinct areas, each consisting of three to five levels. Each level has several candles that can be lit, which help to illuminate the world and identify potential hazards. These candles also act as a form of collectible item for players to seek out. Most of the time the candles can be found right along the primary path to complete the level, but some are hidden and require a bit of platforming and keen environmental observation.

Moving through each new area brings about a unique variation of environmental puzzle. Early levels are simple and engrain the notion of seeking out the candles throughout while also providing enough illumination that burning down the wick is never a real threat. Each level is dreamlike in presentation. A gentle rocking of the ship alters how chains are hanging (and can potentially block the path). Further into the game, stacks of books and loose pages form the path players must navigate.  Once land is reached, a forest of bio-illuminated flowers helps to create the path. Lily pads float on streams and can be steered by moving to the edge and briefly lighting the wick. Some flowers, however, also “bloom” when there is light nearby, sprouting spiky barbs that will instantly kill the player.

The final levels play out as the candle makes his way through the base of the lighthouse up to the top. Inside the lighthouse, the candle gains a bright blue version of itself, introducing a much different way to navigate. Instead of simply jumping on platforms, players can also jump on shadowy silhouettes of objects in the world. This adds a wonderful wrinkle to the way the world is traversed, because the moment the wick is lit all shadows disappear, causing players to fall into the infinite darkness below. Adding to this new method of movement, floating ghost candles hover and attempt to take the player’s life, approaching in the dark while retreating when the wick is aflame. This spices things up with a nice change of pace, but also gives a false sense of finality once these areas are completed.

I don’t normally like to compare games in a review, but as I was playing through Candleman I couldn’t help but see parallels to the great mobile title Monument Valley. That game is all about rich puzzles based around a limited method of input and interaction. Candleman feels very much the same way. Jumping and igniting the wick are the only two actions players can perform. Having a very unique and interesting final few levels where some twitch reflexes are necessary to achieve success feel natural as the game draws to a close. Especially as the levels that follow after that are much simpler ones where the candle is simply moving through clock-like gear works of the lighthouse.

Sadly, the final stage breaks everything that has come before. Why do developers insist on adding a boss battle to the climax of a game even when one is not warranted? Candleman is a beautiful game with a slow unfolding narrative that ends with such a disappointing conclusion that tarnishes the hours spent with it before. Why does a game need a confrontational scene to prove to players they are at the end? Why make a level where a battle is clearly not going to be winnable? Then, once the battle plays out, why cop out and offer a disappointing ending? Candleman is a great game until the final level.

For as smart as the world design is, it is truly disappointing how the game flickers out. For achievement hunters, Candleman offers an easy 1000 achievement points. Then again, the lousy design of the last stage may hinder any desire to replay. I earned 850, but the last 150 are for lighting all of the candles. I missed five on the last stage and have no desire to replay that final dumpster fire of a level to find them.

Candleman is a good game overall. A magical game even. Something I’m frankly surprised to see as an exclusive to Xbox One. Jumping feels good. The risk-reward of needing to see where not to walk versus staying alive ramps up and presents plenty of tense moments while working through later stages. The music also is as wonderful as the bright visuals. The game’s worth playing, just be prepared to be thoroughly disappointed by the ending.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Beautiful visual world
+ Interesting environmental puzzle variation as the game progresses
+ Zen-like music
+ Nice risk-reward candle lighting mechanic

Cons:
– Dreadful ending

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox One
Publisher: E-Home Entertainment
Developer: Spotlightor Interactive
Release Date: 2/1/2017
Genre: Puzzle/Platformer
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Microsoft Xbox One Store for $14.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.