Candleman is an indie platformer by Chinese developer Spotlightor Interactive and published by E - Home Entertainment, and part of the ID@XBOX program - granting it temporary Xbox One exclusivity. At its core, it's a simplistic platformer played in a 3D space with various perspectives that change over the course of each level. You play as walking candle who only has a total of 10 seconds of light each stage. With an emphasis on darkness and the use of light, Candleman successfully creates an interesting platformer despite its very basic design.
The story here is unsurprisingly thin. You are a candle, trying to light a path through the dark to reach the lighthouse in the distance, yep it doesn't go beyond that. The only narration is done at the start of each chapter, spoke as if from a storybook with usually just a couple of lines. Each level is titled with half of an extract from the poem that details the events of the game. You can unveil each coupling by igniting all the optional candles - although there is no reward for doing this other than the satisfaction of completing the rhyme and getting an achievement. I will admit however that the ending is quite unconventional and doesn't have the outcome you may expect. It's a shame that more effort wasn't put into the levels themselves. They serve their purpose of allowing platforming but lack any meaningful character, particularly past the first chapter. Each new location does feel different in terms of colour and atmosphere, but there isn't any sense of presence here. It's an unremarkable world that exists only at the time of playing.
The Candleman himself also lacks any personality or charm. Without a face, voice or even any animations other than walking and jumping, I found it hard to connect to his motives or emotions. Games have proven that personifying rudimentary objects can work, one recent example was Yarny from Unravel. His reactions to the weather and the world around him made him feel more believable and therefore encourages the player to believe in him. There is one small part near the end, where the music ramps up as if it's creating a powerful conclusion for this stick of wax, but it doesn't earn it. Good intentions were here, but the outcome is, unfortunately, underwhelming.
Candleman Review (Xbox One) Riding the water and avoiding the fire
As a platformer, Candleman prioritises its world as levels, mixing in small puzzles and environmental threats to help spice things up. The game is split into 9 chapters, with an average of 5 individual stages, each one lasting roughly 10 minutes - depending on the difficulty.Before I get into the core gameplay and design, one noteworthy point of annoyance here is that after each completion of a level, the game boots you back to the menu. With a game like this, that stresses flow and continuity in its environments, it feels very disjointed when you have to go back and forth between the menu every 10 or so minutes. It's not worth the extra line of poetry.
Platforming is simple. You can walk, jump and ignite yourself. Walking is fairly slow and you cannot run, however, your jump is surprisingly powerful. Giving you height and distance without any sprint or specific button press. If you hadn't realised, your movement is extremely barebones. You cannot do slides, or wall jumps, grab hold of ledges or even crouch. You are a candle, not Mario. These shallow platforming abilities may feel stale compared to modern platformers today, but the light mechanic may entice you. For each level, you have a total 10 seconds of light that you can manual activate at any time of your choosing. You can see the wax drip off (which is a nice touch) and witness yourself slowly melt down. If you don't use it sparingly, you may find yourself just smoke before the finish. Initially, you burn to simply light up where you need to jump, but as the chapters go on, you will be able to use light to activate floating platforms or explode obstacles in your way. It also turns shifts your use of light against you, as using it in certain sections it may cause vicious plants to react and expand around you, forcing you to think carefully about when and when not to ignite. Each chapter has a certain gimmick that you quickly learn, and it helps add variety to the game immensely. Especially in the final chapters where it starts to introduce more advanced mechanics with the use of shadows and mirrors. Candleman works at its best when it layers these small mechanics together. However, it takes a while till the game realises this and the majority of the game ends up too easy. Challenge is offered in the final levels but ends all too quickly.
Candleman Review (XBOX ONE) Complex shadow platforming
The perspective of the game constantly shifts between side on, top down, and a traditional behind the character view. In order to successfully accomplish this, a game needs good depth perception. Luckily Candleman nails it. Whether you're climbing up steps, around the back of walls or jumping across moving lily pads; I was always aware of where I needed to jump and how far. With a static camera, the game personalises your view to ensure you have a clear understanding of how to traverse around. This was not only vital in order to reduce frustration caused by the very simplistic gameplay, but also as the levels are often very dark, it wouldn't help if you couldn't even navigate in the light. If I ever fell into the abyss below, it was usually my fault. Or the controller obviously. The resource of light is not a burden, more of a limit, adding some much-needed flavour to its generic gameplay.
Candleman Review (XBOX ONE) Avoiding the deadly plants
Variety can sometimes be just as important as graphic fidelity. Apart from the initial dark, musky atmosphere of the initial chapters, the majority of Candlemans' environments are incredibly basic and generic. Thankfully, each level does feel distinctly different. With dusty, moonlit bookshelves giving way to spiralling forest vines; the game displays a generous amount of diversity and showcasing a large range of colour despite the core concept of light and dark. I was pleasantly surprised that not all locales were pitch black, instead using light effectively and carefully. From the blue glow of lilypads to the beams of light piercing through the gaps of the hull of a ship. This helped keep things fresh when starting a new chapter. The technology used isn't particularly impressive, but the multiple purposes both visual and gameplay Candleman introduces is consistently interesting.
As a side note, I did notice a decent amount of frame drops during the more hectic sections. Usually when multiple particle effects or moving pieces were on screen at once. Luckily none occurred very long and didn't impact my gameplay, but with a game engine so simple and running on modern hardware, it's inexcusable.
Much like many other small indie titles, sound is mostly absent, only found on the menu and as the game ends. The small piece available when selecting your chapter is fine and actually, makes me question why they didn't implement and mix it up a bit for the game itself. The end piece, as mentioned above, is way too climactic and epic, and outpaces what's actually on screen. Sound design is decent, with nice satisfying noises for walking on different materials, plants expanding and the plops of water caused by the lilypads. Though there is a severe lack of ambient sound. I would've like to have heard more creaking whilst indoors or the sound of whistling wind and birds in outside areas. Much like the rest of the game, the sound only exists to assist the gameplay and completely avoids attempting to use it as a method of world building.
With its clever use of light and the variety of level designs, Candleman surpasses its simplicity and undeveloped storytelling in favour of an enjoyable, if short, gameplay focused journey of a candle. Thanks to consistently introducing new mechanics and the fantastic use of light and darkness, the developers have created a simple concept with an undeniable chance of potential. I truly hope this team learns from their downfalls and strive to make something bigger and better because I do believe they can reach it. Candleman doesn't reinvent the wheel, and in some aspects, it actually reverts back, but it shines just enough to help it