Follow the light.
The team at Spanish developer Teku Studios have poured their hearts into Candle: The Power of the Flame – and it shows. Just one glance at its watercolour world draws you in, opening you up to a plethora of intricately-designed puzzles and challenging platforming that’ll keep you hooked for the long haul.
In Candle, you play as young Teku, a tribe member whose village has been razed in a fiery assault by the Wakcha – a rival tribe. The shaman has been kidnapped and Teku – armed only with his small candle and his cunning – is the only one who can rescue him.
Following a brief tutorial, you’re set loose into the first act, a series of linked environments filled with puzzles to solve and enemy Wakcha to hide from. In a nice mix of adventure game and 2D puzzle platformer, you’re left to your own devices to discover puzzles, get stuck, explore, find items and solve those same puzzles long after finding them.
That’s the basic rhythm of the entire game, but it rarely drags. It gets frustrating, definitely; the third act is padded with busywork which brings what should be a rush to the finish line to a glacial crawl – but other than that, the minute-to-minute experience is a pleasure.
Your main tool is your candle, always in your hand and surprisingly versatile. By lighting up spots across the environment, Teku transports the flame throughout the world. This lets him see in the dark, solve puzzles and glean vital clues. Holding a lit candle near an enemy means they’ll immediately discover – and murder – you, so you’re bottlenecked by enemies in places, forced to find a way past them before you can bring your flame with you safely.
Solving these instances is immensely satisfying; you’ll come across an area which seems impassable at first, but by exploring elsewhere, solving other dilemmas and doing a bit of thinking, you’ll have that eureka moment and dispatch the Wakcha with confidence. There are tons of these eureka moments, and they trump any frustrations you might have.
This is mainly because puzzle solutions are often shrewd. Innocuous art in the environment often turns out to be intrinsic to the solution, so you have to pay attention at all times. Eventually, you learn what to look out for and feel smarter as you go along because of it. The game is very well designed – and that is obvious from the artwork.
Candle: The Power of the Flame is adorned with beauty. Every inch of the game world has been painstakingly hand-drawn and inked with watercolour to achieve a timeless style that impresses with every new environment. Being able to blend this art with the gameplay elevates it further, and animations have a weighty, elaborate feel to them reminiscent of the 2D Oddworld games.
This can also feel quite heavy – especially just moving Teku – and that can make the platforming harder than it should be. Luckily, death isn’t much if a punishment; seeing Teku fall to his death, be alley-ooped by sadistic Wakcha, or be eaten by the local fauna, never feels like much of failure.
The story of Candle is well told, framed with a Malcolm McDowell sound-alike narrator who guides you through the history of the tribes, the world, the gods and Teku’s personal journey. Just like the art, the writing has been meticulously crafted. It nails the tone it’s going for and tells a good story with no real drawbacks. Nothing revolutionary, but solid, and a fine companion to the gameplay – as is the distinct soundtrack.
Throughout the three acts of Candle, you’re taken through three distinct environments. Act two is the strongest, with the constant rain forcing you to cope without your candle for large chunks of time, though each of the environments feels like its own Rubik’s cube. You work away at it, moving from place to place, trying to find the right way forward, until it clicks and everything falls into place.
Like I said, the third act could have been more streamlined. Just getting rid of the connect-three and sliding block steam pipe puzzles would do most of the work, but taking Teku on his mission and feeling like a little genius on the way is a charming and fruitful experience regardless.
There are unfair difficulty spikes early on, and you often feel like you’re making progress only to be stumped by another puzzle that rears its head like a roadblock. These frustrations, along with some slow animations and transitions, seem like part and parcel from the adventure game approach, but does feel like it could have been tightened up in places.
If you missed out on Candle on its initial 2016 PC release, then this version is definitely worth chasing down. What you get is a lovingly-crafted package that, despite some minor niggles, is an absolute joy to play.