Thank you so much to indienova for providing a review code
Candleman is a wonderful example of everything just working in conjunction with each other. The story, the setting, the gameplay, they’re all implemented in a way that compliments the other. This idea for a pretty minor gimmick of being a candle that can produce ten seconds of light throughout an entire level before dying blossoms into this grand display of unique and varying ideas, beautiful sceneries, and a strangely touching story.
Awakening on an abandoned ship, a little candle is troubled by the amount of darkness in the world he has awoken to. That is until he discovers a world beyond the abandoned ship that surrounds the brightest light in the night. From there, your main goal is to make it to the lighthouse, which won’t be an easy task. You will have to overcome perilous obstacles and other dangers to become the brightest light in all the darkness. The story is simple and makes you want to go on and find out what happens. On the surface, it may seem very two dimensional, but when you dive into it, it starts to become a surprisingly emotional journey of self-worth and perseverance.
The way the story is told is also very unique. On top of narrated cut scenes here and there, each level is presented as one line of a poem with a chapter making up the whole poem. To finish these chapter poems, however, you need to find varying amounts of candles to light in each level to unlock more lines of the poem which fills out the whole narrative. While I won’t dive too deeply into candle collecting just yet, this idea of uncovering a story by means of a checklist is satisfying and gives more incentive to attempt a 100% completion.
At its core, the basics of Candleman are getting from the start to the end of the level with only ten seconds available to use your light. This means you have to cautiously ration your light and pick and choose where it is absolutely necessary. Throughout the levels, you use your light to progress through different puzzle type situations with some platforming thrown in. Candleman feels good to control and I never found myself getting frustrated with any of the tight platforming sections. Aside from that the general level design works well with Candleman and his movements as well as the respective gimmicks of the chapter.
In each level, you can light checkpoint candles as well as candles that are scattered around to light up the levels a bit more. As I mentioned earlier lighting up these extra candles will also go towards adding to the poems. These candles usually are pretty easy to stumble across and can usually all be found in the initial run-through of a level. However, should you run out of all your lives, your candle progress will be reset. Towards the end of the game, there are tougher ones to find but it’s not a huge issue to go back through a level to pick up any remaining few.
A problem I do have with the collection system is that as you light candles, they are added to this checklist at the top of the screen, however, they aren’t added in terms of how far through the level they appear, rather just added as you get them. What I mean by this is that if you were to light the last candle in the level first, it would appear as the first candle on the checklist. This makes it difficult to go back through levels and locate hidden candles as you have no real indication of where to look for them. This makes backtracking through the entire level slightly tedious. It’s also important to note that even the candles you light run on a timer and after a while will go dark; this doesn’t take away from your counter but does urge you to hurry through certain sections.
Something I really appreciate about this game is that for all twelve chapters, not only do the visuals and scenery set them apart and make each memorable, but also each chapter has a respective gimmick. For example; there’s a chapter based around using wheels to tilt the level, a chapter that uses a mirror to indicate platforms in the real world as well as utilizing shadows to find invisible platforms. There’s a chapter with blossoming flowers both harmful and lethal and there’s even a chapter based on lighting projectiles to clear obstacles. All these respective chapters also introduce sub-gimmicks that work with the main one and give an added challenge. The flower chapter, for example, introduces spiky fruits that roll across platforms and can be used with the appearing platforms to lead the fruit across a track.
If I were to list each and every gimmick and sub-gimmick and how they all worked, this review would be easily tripled in length and would also ruin the surprise of most of the game. Even though there are so many ideas introduced constantly it never feels overwhelming. At the end of each chapter, a cut scene plays shows where the candle is continuing his journey and also quickly shows off the main gimmick of that chapter. Candleman eases you into the possible complexities of these gimmicks by familiarizing you with each gimmick and sub gimmick one level at a time before slowly putting them all together in a way that’s not overwhelming for the player.
The only problem I have with the gameplay itself is that it may be a bit generous with lives. The game gives you ten lives per level before you lose them and have to restart at the beginning. I rarely found myself losing more than five on any level so cutting the life count in half could have added a bit more challenge to the gameplay. Another admittedly very minor problem is that the candle moves very slowly and can make certain parts of levels with nothing going on for long periods, tedious to get through.
There isn’t too much to say about the presentation itself. The visuals are a sort of mix between realistic and animated (tipping more towards realistic) that compliments the world very well. The whole world is built around a strong contrast between light and dark to parallel the main thesis of the game. The best aspect of Candleman’s presentation comes with just the variety of locations you travel through on your journey. You’ll visit a magical library, flowery lakes, icy rivers, the otherworldly interior of the lighthouse, and the cold depths of a cave. Each of the locales is so visually distinctive from one another that no chapter feels the same and each is just as memorable as the last.
Aside from the looks of the game, the sound design and soundtrack are all great. Lighting a flame rewards you with a comforting sound that fills you with relief after being consumed by the dark. Having too low of a candle distorts your view and audio to make you feel tense and stressed. The empty yet comforting soundtrack of slow, enchanting instruments being drowned out by the pitter-patter of the candle and the comforting sound of your flame is truly awe-inspiring.
While there was the occasional frame rate drop, Candleman posed no other significant technical issues during my playthrough.
Candleman was a really enjoyable journey to take part in. It still amazes me just how many ideas they were able to branch off the initial basic concept of the ten-second timer and lighting up candles. The game is longer than I expected it to be, but it never overstayed its welcome. It would introduce a location and gimmick, teach you how to use it and test you on it, then move on before ever becoming tedious. Couple that with a nice narrative (with a fantastic ending that made me audibly “aww”) that keeps the player wanting to find out what comes next on the little candle’s journey makes for a solid experience. It feels perfect for the pick-up and go style of the switch with its relatively short level design and easy to understand gameplay. This is a great puzzle platformer to pick up for your switch’s library!
Tons of Great Gameplay Mechanics
Unique Locations & Level Designs
Interesting Core Concept
Nice Visual & Sound Design
Movements Are a Bit Too Slow
Keeping Track of Which Candles You Lit Can be Confusing
Love playing games and experiencing all that the different developers have to offer, happy to have the chance to broaden my horizons and explore more of the vast universe of indie games with Switch Atlantic!