Always on the hunt for interesting indie games, The Last Campfire is one of the newest additions to my digital library. Aside from watching a trailer at one point that I now no longer remember, I went into this game knowing almost nothing about it aside from the fact that it involved solving puzzles. While it’s not always wise to buy a game with very little research, I’m pleased to say this is one minor gamble that certainly paid off.
In this game, you play as a little ember named, well, Ember who is searching for a way home. The first official section of the game is an open environment where you seek out other embers called “forlorn”, who seem as if they’ve turned to stone. Whenever you encounter a forlorn, you are taken to a room where you must solve a puzzle. While I had initially assumed this would be the whole game, exploring an open environment, find forlorn, then move on to the next section, this didn’t end up being the case. After I helped every forlorn around the first campfire, I discovered that this game is bigger and more interesting than I had anticipated.
Between larger, more open campfire sections of the game, there is more exploring and puzzling to do, as you encounter embers dressed as birds who strongly discourage you from leaving the nest and spreading false hope to others or explore a misty marsh with a very cool mechanic required in order to navigate it. (It’s a lot like a certain dungeon in Skyward Sword….)
The game presents you with a very interesting and beautiful world to explore, which is narrated from start to finish by a single young woman. At first, I found the narration, and the fact that she also speaks for every character in the game, to be a bit strange, but after a while, I began to find comfort in her calm, soothing voice and can now say that her narration really ties the whole experience together, almost as if you’re listening to someone read you a story. To add to the story, this game has a strong message concerning fear, hope, and self-doubt. Some of the puzzles even do an excellent job of representing the feelings of the forlorn you are helping, but more on that later.
With that said, I’d better talk about the puzzles, the most important feature of the game, shouldn’t I? Most of the puzzles in this game were quite fun, and many of them were challenging without being frustrating. I will admit that they reused some concepts a lot, and the game could have benefited from combining some ideas or outright scrapping a few puzzle ideas that were overused. For example, many puzzles involve moving blocks or these segmented snakes with an object called a lanthorn, which allows you to move any metal object from a distance. Most of the time, these puzzles were varied enough to be fun, but how many times must I move the snakes to make a certain shape or use the mirrors attached to them to bounce light? A few puzzles were also laughably easy, and since there were so many truly good puzzles, it’s a shame they didn’t replace some of these easy ones with something better.
Nevertheless, the puzzles were generally quite good and really got me thinking. And as I mentioned earlier, I was able to easily recognize the deeper meaning behind some of them, as well. For example, one forlorn seems as if they feel they can’t do anything right, so you must carefully navigate a block with a vent on one side without blowing out any of the torches. Another forlorn fears the unseen future, so you must bounce light around barriers. While the most substantial puzzles are typically reserved for the forlorn, lighter puzzles are required to navigate the environment or to find journal entries from the Wanderer. In addition to being a fun and engaging game to play for any fans of puzzling, I also found the game to be quite serene and relaxing, with many relatable characters because of their fears and doubts.
Aside from a few redundant or weak puzzles, I have very few negatives aside from one final thing, the performance. While I played the game on the PS4, I’ve heard of issues on the Switch, as well. Sometimes when you’re moving around, the game will freeze up for a split second. It happens enough that it’s quite noticeable and even happened during the end-game cut scene. While it doesn’t exactly ruin the game, I didn’t really understand why it performed so poorly, as I’ve played much larger games on my PS4 without an issue. There were also a few other weird occurrences, like clipping through walls or the wake behind your boat blinking in and out of existence. Also, getting out of your boat uses the same button as rowing your boat, so I couldn’t get out of the boat unless I held the button near ladders, then released it. Just pressing the button normally meant rowing away from ladders I was trying to climb.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Campfire despite a handful of issues that really should have been solved before the game was released. If you enjoy puzzles and more relaxing games with no combat and a deeper message, I’d highly recommend it.