The little candle that could.
There’s no game I’ve played that’s quite like Candleman. That’s a good sign that a game is pushing the limits of its genre. The darkness in Candleman’s levels is something so simple, but it makes even the simplest levels so much more challenging. Even in a level with just a few jumps and turns, you always have to be careful because there can be an unseen pitfall around the next corner. But the core theme of darkness isn’t the only thing which Candleman’s levels succeed with. Each world in Candleman explores unique mechanics which make no two worlds feel the same.
The superb level design is Candleman’s greatest strength, but it also features a story that can be appreciated by anyone. The best moments in Candleman are the times when the candle faces its biggest obstacles or when it looks ahead to its next challenge.
In the first moments of Candleman, you meet a little candle who looks at a mirror. The candle stares into the mirror and asks, “Why do I burn?”. Embarking on an adventure that starts in a dark and dreary abandoned ship, he travels to the outside world where he spots a beautiful lighthouse in the distance. He asks himself if he could burn as brightly as the lighthouse, and so begins a long journey to find out. There’s something magical about the moment the candle reaches the top of the lighthouse, but it isn’t the end of the journey because he doesn’t find what he’s looking for.
The story is accompanied wonderfully by some amazing visuals. There were beautiful things to see in almost all of Candleman’s twelve worlds, from the forest’s glowing vegetation to the fireworks display in the night sky. Many levels are interrupted by sudden camera motions to capture the beautiful scenery or an upcoming obstacle. These visuals give the levels a greater sense of urgency, driving the player forward.
Candleman’s levels make the most of the ever-present darkness by providing the candle only ten seconds of light before it burns out into a puddle. The time you have to shine is a resource that you must conserve very carefully. If you burn for a second or two too long, you might not have enough time left to safely navigate through the level. There’s nothing more disconcerting than having nearly spent your light but still being stuck in a dark passage.
Littered throughout each level is a number of candles that you can light in order to act as a beacon if you die and you have to start from the last checkpoint. Some candles are littered on the path to the exit, but some are hidden in dead ends that must be found. The candles in each stage are Candleman’s primary unlockable. Find them all and a stage will be marked with a special icon in the stage selection.
You have ten lives to complete each level. I never ran out of lives, but I got within two or three lives quite a few times. Once you run out of lives, you lose your checkpoint and you have to restart the level from the beginning.
Each world, which consists of three to five levels, adds new scenery and new mechanics to utilise or overcome. The second world appears to be stacks of books, the third world is a forest filled with vegetation that lights up when you do, and the fourth is a river or lake that must be traversed by jumping on lilies. Once you reach the later stages, you’ll find that some worlds have to be played very differently from the rest of the game. For instance, in world 10, you have to cower in the darkness to avoid being burned by deadly light. The different mechanics used in the twelve different worlds make sure that Candleman never becomes a stale experience.
The game is a little short at around eight hours for a first-time playthrough. It has a total of 46 levels across the twelve worlds. Once you complete the game the first time, you have the option to return to previous stages to collect candles or switch to time trial mode where you can beat the suggested time-to-beat or compete with other players in the leaderboards. Collectors will appreciate all the hidden candles, but the fact that there are no other collectables is a little disappointing. There’s no hidden artwork, secret stages, or other gems to be found. Finding candles doesn’t unlock anything terribly interesting, as far as I know.
Candleman isn’t a long game, but the levels are fun and the game features a strong story and amazing visuals. The poetic lines and the visuals create a mood that keep you wanting to go on to the next stage. The only thing keeping Candleman from being timeless is that there’s not enough stuff to do once you finish unless you want to re-experience the story. The time trial mode doesn’t do enough for the game’s replayability because you’ll still just be playing the same 46 levels. That’s not to say that Candleman is a lacklustre experience. It’s a fun game with a story that will keep on shining long after you finish.