Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.
Indie platformers don’t necessarily have to be all about pixels, but can be adventurous with wonderful water colors as in Teku Studios‘ Candle.
Young Teku has to rescue his tribe’s shaman from an evil cult clan and bring light into the darkness of this brave new world.
A story without words and a water-colorful world
Platformers that revolve around puzzles don’t always have an intriguing story, but Candle presents a good, quite mature plot with lots of twists and a bit of character development. This is even more surprising, considering that dialogues aren’t text-based, but feature symbols only. It doesn’t mean that the story and characters aren’t engaging, far from it: A narrator comments on scenes and provides an oral storytelling experience, while the NPCs are as weird and colorful as the world they inhabit.
The locations the player traverses are lovingly crafted and don’t simply serve as a background for puzzles. Creatures, people, flora, and fauna make it a believable fantasy setting that is grounded in folklore and myth which incorporates monsters and magic, but which also feels like a relic of past or future civilizations with a Mayan touch. This is reflected in the overall story that becomes surprisingly dark and violent the further one progresses. It’s surprising that the game received a 6+ age rating, as some cutscenes have blood and a little gore, and functioning as a fable about humanity’s striving for power and its inclination to enslave and oppress is certainly not for small children to easily digest. So even if one gets stuck on the various puzzles, the atmosphere to go through these interconnected and varied places and find out how the story turns out is enough to keep on going.
The meat of the game are the puzzles, although platforming is also essential. While it can mostly be less stressful as in the Rayman series and doesn’t involve shooting, it’s still full of frustrating moments. Deaths are frequent with trial and error passages in addition to stealth segments, all of which are results of enemy encounters as well as environmental dangers. What is even more annoying are objects or entrances hidden behind the scenery. Running around the same places, because there aren’t many clues of what to do, is also problematic, especially since the map is pretty useless, as one has to remember many characters, levers, and tasks to do in each level. Teleportation stations could have been more numerous, as it’s usually faster to go from screen to screen than using the few that are there.
However, for all its shortcomings, the puzzle design is very imaginative and manages to create a feeling that one almost plays a Metroid game. Of course the atmosphere is less oppressive and one doesn’t shoot things, but the way how one traverses the levels after receiving new objects to use in different places, interact with characters, makes the interconnected world much more alive and fun to explore than is usually the case with linear adventure games. It might not be called a point-and-click adventure game in the strictest sense of the word, but choosing the correct item in the inventory with the environment is pretty close to the puzzle solving one is used to in these types of games.
The quality of the puzzles is generally high. In addition, the titular candle is necessary to progress, e.g. one can light dark places, blind enemies or use it in other ways. This can become tricky in rainy places, as one has to find out how to keep the flame burning. Only the logic puzzles are rather annoying and less imaginative. If there was only a better in-game help function or more clues, it would be a much more accessible game for beginners.
Out of and inside this world visuals and sounds
Hand-drawn backgrounds and characters are always a plus in games, but the water color art direction makes this title very special. Everything is vibrant and detailed, while the animations are also spot-on. Cutscenes using the in-game graphics or more cinematic videos are great to look at as well, making it one of very few titles where one can’t find any fault with the graphic presentation. The same is also true for the very good voice acting (if only by the narrator) and amazing soundtrack that uses all kinds of instruments that can only be found in South-American folk music.
A unique adventure to remember
Candle is just one word, and Teku Studios is a newcomer in the gaming industry, but what both achieve is to present something unique for an audience growing tired of the same old pixel art style and hand-drawn comic or serious adventure games. Even if the plot and characters won’t stand the test of time, the water colored world is quite impressive to look at and puzzle one’s way through. Gameplay-wise, the game offers some unique challenges for thinking and jumping, both usually exclusive, but working in tandem here.
The graphics and soundtrack are simply flawless, so it’s a shame that the game holds so many frustrations in its platforming and puzzle segments. More conundrums and a longer playtime of around 8-10 hours doesn’t necessarily make a more enjoyable game, so with a bit of more polish, e.g. having more clues, fewer logic puzzles and hidden environments, in addition to fewer stealth segments, this could have been a much smoother experience for people who don’t usually like platformers or point-and-click adventure games.
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