As the gaming world becomes more about numbered sequels and me-too copycats, it’s rare to find a game that is genuinely unique. Part of the reason I love playing indie games is because many of the games are full of charm and creativity. Candleman is a former China-exclusive ID@XBOX game that thankfully is seeing a broader release in 2017. The player controls Candleman, who can self-ignite his wick to better see the areas around him. This comes at a cost because Candleman only has a combined 10-seconds worth of wax at his disposal before he will die. The player can flick the light briefly to see their surroundings, but if you hold it for long you will quickly meet your death. It’s time to see if this unique concept is more of a bright flame or flare-out.
There are some story elements in Candleman, mostly involving Candleman’s journey of self discovery. Throughout the game’s 9 chapters I was treated to beautiful cutscenes with incredible voiceover as Candleman made his way to new areas. While I appreciated the story, my main focus of the game was exploring each beautiful area to its fullest.
As you make your way from beginning to end of each level, there are other unlit stationary candles that are in the player’s best interest to light. These candles act as the game’s collectables, oftentimes in hard-to-reach places, in addition to providing extra light in the level. All the levels are very dark, I routinely had to “flash” my flame quickly to get an idea of my surroundings. It is very costly to hold Candleman’s flame on because he will shrink down and eventually die after 10 seconds. There is a benefit to shrinking as Candleman becomes lighter and easier to maneuver.
In each level, there’s one blue candle which acts as a checkpoint; if you die after lighting it you will respawn but with the same amount of wax as when you reached it. Thankfully every candle you light stays lit should you run out of wax or fall off a platform, even if lit before or after the checkpoint candle. Candleman also drops a useful trail of wax whenever he ignites himself. This was very helpful when making my way back to my original spot of death. The main goal is to reach the exit, a bright blue beacon, after lighting all the candles in the stage. Lighting all the candles is optional though, with the only benefits being extra light and a sense of completion.
Controlling Candleman works well for the most part, but jumping does feel a bit floaty. Sometimes this floaty-ness worked to my advantage, as I made distant jumps I never thought I’d land. Other times it can be a bit frustrating. You are allowed a generous 10 deaths per stage before you must start over. I could finish most of the stages in a couple tries or less, only using all 10 deaths about three times. There is some replay value in returning to levels to light every candle, but once that is complete you really have seen everything the game has to offer.
The graphics and art style are a true highlight of the game. With a dark and light theme, the overall lighting has got to be good, and Candleman comes through in that respect. There is also a tremendous use of color in later stages thanks to bright blue water lilies and flower platforms and plant obstacles. I really liked how I used my flame to navigate the world as well. Some dangerous pointy plants will expand when you fan your flame, this led to navigating some areas in the dark or otherwise getting impaled. Flower platforms would bloom when I used my flame and later on, invisible platforms would appear and disappear quickly if I didn’t keep the lights up. This leads to a sense of desperation as you want to conserve wax for every candle but still want to complete the level.
Candleman is a game that is unique and a joy to play. Every chapter provided a different gameplay element which kept things fresh. I absolutely loved the need to conserve wax versus the desire to complete each level 100%. Candleman has only 10 achievements and 4 of them can be earned in the first level, which is always a nice bonus. Players who just play from start to finish without worrying about candle lighting will finish the game in a couple of hours. Add on a couple hours more for mopping up everything and you are getting a game that is very enjoyable while it lasts.