As you may have guessed from its namesake, Candleman is all about a little sentient candle trying desperately to discover its purpose in the world. Developer, Spotlighter Interactive will pleasantly surprise you with the depth of tone in this game. While it may be easy to assume the throw away nature of a game that is about a Beauty and The Beast style candle with legs running about, to do so would be a mistake. The player will get drawn in by a subtle blend of light puzzling, butt-cheek-tensing platforming and super focused world design.
The mood of Candleman’s story is an interesting blend of sinister and wonder. As the story begins, Candleman finds himself surrounded in darkness at the depths of a giant seafaring vessel. Our only context for the moment is a disembodied narrator telling us how this little light in the darkness yearns to be so much more. As a result, we take control and the Candleman begins his adventure of determination as he presses forward into the darkness.
Between the game’s chapters, we will be treated to a cutscene that will almost always play on the wonderful lighting at play. These will simply narrate the trials and ordeals Candleman braves his way through. While the voice actor of the narrator leaves a lot to be desired, it’s just as well Candleman’s world is what tells the game’s story the most. Context is everything and Candleman delivers it up in spades, not through narration or explicit story telling. We are left to understand this odd and magical world as we explore it. Themes of magic are strongly implied throughout. Which, without directly telling us, explains why it suddenly makes sense to have a little candle running around, searching for his life’s meaning. On the one hand, it’s absurd. On the other, it feels strongly metaphorical as if this game was a Tim Burton underdog story.
What we soon come to understand is that this seafaring vessel must be the property of some wizard. Not only are the levels larger than life as Candleman is only small, having to jump just to get onto the side of a book. But, despite these towers of books being confined to a ship, we soon find them disappearing into a dark abyss, bathed in the sporadic moonlight of the night. A perfect setup for some platforming. At last, Candleman finds a window and through it, he sees a towering lighthouse. This is it! His goal is to shine brightly and majestically like the lighthouse in the distance and Candleman’s brave quest to reach it begins…
To be clear, the gameplay found in Candleman is only just past the point of being casual. It’s not so challenging that it finds itself accessible only to hardcore platforming fans of Rayman Legends. Yet it does have its little moments that will require you to stop and think. The first instance of this is about thirty minutes in, still aboard the ship. Spotlighter Interactive have cleverly incorporated the ebb of the sea into their puzzles. This means Candleman will have to figure out how to steer / angle the ship to move dangling chains or to block threats. This is just one example of how the developer asks you to think but you’ll never be at risk of a brain aneurysm.
At your disposal is quite simply move, jump and light flame. It’s the latter of the three that helps Candleman to stand out so well. Candleman’s life gauge is his wax. The taller he stands as a candle, the better off he is. Yet the game asks you to sacrifice your health in order to see. There are environmental light queues that can help show you the way but most areas will have you lighting up for the briefest of moments, over and over just to line up the next jump. When I started playing, I ran around with the flame on until Candleman keeled over and died. “Oh I see”.
This mechanic adds a brilliant “dicing with death” element to every dark area, which makes up a majority of the game. The longer the level, the smarter the player will have to be about when to create light for themselves. This is reflected best in the game’s carefully fine tuned difficulty arc. Suffice it to say, there are no difficulty spikes to trip you up in Candleman. More like a steadily increasing level of difficulty, like the older games used to. Being a platformer, this comes down Candleman’s level design.
Each chapter is distinctively unique, not only in how each set of levels look (each of them are beautiful in different ways) but also in how they handle light. In the first chapter, your ability to create light is just… there. There so you know it’s there. As the game progresses however, we’ll find our light triggers certain things. In a fairytale forest, it may trigger tumbling spiked fruit to run away from… Or to use. In the following lake your light may reveal psychedelic flowers that float to your aid and can be directed with a little flame at each corner. I honestly applaud Spotlighter Games for creating a set of chapters that consistently deliver new things to the player throughout, as well as new ways to figure out getting from A to B. That would likely explain why I nearly finished the game in my first sitting.
Graphics And Sound
As you may have gathered by now, Candleman is beautiful. What makes it so impressive is that it didn’t have to be. We could have gotten the exact same game without the pretty blue particle effects or the pretty fairytale forest. Spotlighter Interactive didn’t have to put so much effort into their lighting effects. But they did and as a result, a game largely about being suspended in darkness effortlessly finds a way to be beautiful. The developers didn’t have to fill the forest with glowing psychedelic plantlife either. But they did and it’s quite frankly brilliant.
Honestly, if you take a minute to lean forward and really look at Candleman, its textures aren’t that great. At the highest of settings it could still benefit from a little more anti-aliasing. But when I say Candleman is beautiful, I’m not talking about high graphical fidelity so much as overall presentation. When Candleman presents itself to you as well as it does, fidelity is frankly a null point. It looks great and that’s that.
Candleman’s visual presentation is only one of the two halves that make it so entrancing. The second half being its sound design. My god is it crisp. Spotlighter Interactive quickly impressed me with attention to detail in sound design when I learned the difference of how Candleman’s iron feet sound clanking against metal and wood. Or the soft putter of grass. So sure, difference in footsteps’ sounds is nothing new in videogames but to find them in an indie is frankly surprising, let alone the high quality of sound on offer here. On top of all this, the quality of sound delivery can be found in the ominous creaking of a ship at sea, mooring chains clanking menacingly above. Or the aching creaking of forestry in the woodland areas, or the soothing sounds of the lake.
As far as music is concerned, there is very little of it. However, common of independently developed indie titles, it is used few and far between with good effect. Most memorable was Candleman’s escape from the ship at sea. A tense platforming segment in which he floats atop a crate, dodging screaming pillars of fire and progression blocking pipes. That scene would have not been so vividly lodged in my memory were it not for the riling orchestral music that accompanied it.
As a platforming fan I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Candleman. Without a doubt, it has put Spotlighter Studios on my gaming news radar. They are clearly a team that possess original ideas and dare to execute them in a title that asks for very little of your money. With its relentless themes of mystery, satisfyingly “not quite casual” puzzle elements and gorgeous colour palette, Candleman will hypnotise you from start to finish. I would strongly recommend this game if you enjoy Rayman, Limbo or Little Nightmares.
|+ Delightful world desgin||– Narration could use a bit more love|
|+ Masterful use of lighting to create mood|
|+ Simple yet rewarding patforming|