Candle Review: Power of the Flame

Developed by Teku Studios and published by Merge Games, Candle is a 2D platforming puzzle adventure that strikes at the core of what makes a creative work transcend its over-saturated genre. Right from the very beginning, Teku Studios introduces places to a grand adventure that is filled with retro art style goodness and sprite animations that even give some of the 16 bit works a run for their money. Right from the game’s outset, players are treated to a puzzle filled watercolor journey that forces viewers to pay attention to every aspect of the screen’s frame with an emphasis on background and foreground juxtapositioning.

Candle is not your typical platformer and Teku studios make sure players realize this factor. Each frame feels like an expressionist film with hints of black comedy. While this may not be the best game of 2018, it certainly warrants attention simply because of its beautiful visual motifs and moments of indy development genius. Without question, Candle: The Power of the Flame has the ability to bring gamers to new heights of thought, forsaking simple face paced action for mind-bending puzzles that require you to pause and think about every facet of every move. 

The Plot and Gameplay

Candle is at its heart a story about survival in a world seeking to destroy the wisdom of one sage. Teku begins his adventure on a quest to save his tribe’s elder who is being held captive by the malevolent Wakcha clan. Teku’s inexperience comes to fruition, as he must learn every aspect of being an adventurer right down to acquiring new skills in order to solve puzzles that allow you to progress from each stage. The world environments are astonishing and diverse. From the Wakcha swamps to the drawings on underground cave walls, Candle never repeats a single environment. The soundtrack is fluid and fits perfectly into the gameplay.

The music is ambient and fluid without adherence to any particular musical style. For instance, when traversing through a water stage, the soundtrack escalates from a subtle horn section to a bombastic orchestral arrangement. During specific segments, enemy encounters are almost a welcome treat, as each animation sprite elicits a feeling of otherworldly dread in a land wrought by Tim Burton flavored motifs. Even though the plot is rudimentary in scope, the means by which the exposition unfolds is the charm of this hidden gem. Not a single flaw can be found in the world’s design and Teku studios drew upon a variety of styles to help capture Teku’s journey through Wakcha territory. 

Further enhancing the title’s storybook atmosphere is the subdued candor of the story’s narrator. Much like fellow puzzle adventure gems such as the Trine series, Candle progresses its plot through the implementation of a voice-over narrator that serves as a sort of segway in between plot points.  The narrator’s voice is heard at the beginning of each stage and then concludes by the end of each level. Such a sparse transitioning of stages through voice acting gives the narrator a sense of lingering importance without becoming overbearing. The quality of the voice acting is spot on as it resembles a medieval sage like aesthetic.  The game also uses pixel sprite thought bubbles that illustrate what each character is saying without actual in-game dialogue text.

For example, in the woods, Teku engages with a frog-like creature who speaks in his own language and yet through a simple comic book style thought bubble, players understand everything he is saying without actual scripted text. Truly a unique means of exposition and a method that can not be overlooked in its proper context.  

Such nuance of verbiage and expression is mesmerizing in its implementation in a world consumed by oddity. This use of character interaction enhances the wow factor of Candle and is a welcomed addition to a worn-out genre.  With all this in mind, one of the most amazing aspects of Candle’s gameplay is the background puzzles that are littered throughout the world of the story. Hidden levers, shifts in water canals and secret ladders form a bridge that unifies the foreground and the background of the frame which adds new levels of depth to the 2D platforming milieux. 

The Cons of Being a Puzzle Platformer

While Candle possesses many positives in its gameplay, one of the major missteps inherent in almost every puzzle platformer is the lack of combat action sequences. In this respect, Candle is no exception to this circumstance and this severely hampered an otherwise flawless 2D adventure. Almost the entirety of the game is spent traversing through each stage, climbing cliffs, and discovering ways to solve each puzzle with little to no enemy encounters to confront. Enemies can be easily dispatched through Teku’s candle fist that reduces encounters to a simple single button press.

The flame fist is better served in illuminating dark caverns and caves than an actual tool for combat. Whereas the aforementioned Trine series balances puzzle solving and enemy encounters perfectly, Candle is light years behind its contemporaries in this aspect. Repetition became in an issue during Teku’s journey, as using your flame to light each cave to reveal a secret felt abysmal when compared to the lush worlds each stage inhabits. Candle could have and should have incorporated a major boss battle for each level instead of simple stage progressions. Even the greatest of puzzle solving cannot make up for engaging boss battles, and this is something Teku Studios should have realized during development.  But besides this lack of action sequences, Candle: The Power of the Flame is a wonderful experience and definitely a genre-defining title for the Nintendo Switch.

The Verdict

Even if you are not the biggest fan of puzzle games, Teku Studios has produced a work of art that blends an expressionist visual style with an adventure that is both captivating and unique. Teku is a character who is desperate to save his village and its shaman. Such desperation is evoked through the haunting art style and childlike naivety of the game’s protagonist. Each frame of illustration is nothing short of sheer brilliance and it fits brilliantly with a soundtrack that can be both haunting yet soothing at times. Candle is a visual splendor to behold with a lot of depth and attention to detail that rivals any big-budget release. But that does not mean it is flawless. For those seeking a more melee based action adventure, look elsewhere. Merge Games published a product that is more cerebral than immediately gratifying. Teku’s adventure through a gothic inspired world is not something that hits you right away, but when it does, players are immediately hooked. For all its simplistic 2D design, Candle refuses to cater to mere platforming for its appeal. The flames shine brightly from this puzzle/platformer and it is definitely the must-own indy title on the Switch.  

About Anthony Frisina 75 Articles
Anthony Frisina is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College with a BA in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Anthony went on to attend Brooklyn College's Film Academy and Writer's workshop program, achieving an interdisciplinary degree in Screenwriting and Film theory in the Fine Arts. Transforming his love for classic American cinema, Anthony went on to adapt a number of his own works into different mediums, including his well-received Western novel The Regulator. Anthony likes to spend his free time writing articles for magazines and periodicals that cover a wide range of topics, from science fiction to popular culture. As a screenwriter, Anthony has had his screenplays featured at numerous spec script writing competitions across the country where he one day hopes to write the next great American film.

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