Originally released back in 2016 on PC as the result of a successful Kickstarter, Candle is the debut title from Spanish indie developers Teku Studios. Now, working with Merge Games, Teku Studios have moved their hand crafted adventure to the Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch and it’s a satisfying if occasionally frustrating affair.
Candle begins with a lore dump so large it might as well have come from the rear of a Triceratops on Jurassic Park. Setting the scene, this cut scene tells of a primitive time when the gods had repeatedly created and subsequently extinguished the life of the land when men became violent towards one another. The same fate had come to pass again as a group of Wakcha warriors rampage through the land, arriving at the village of the protagonist and tribe light barer Teku. After an attack on his home, Teku wakes to find his village ablaze and his Shaman captured. Summoning his courage, he sets out on a rescue mission armed with nothing but a candle flame on his hand (Teku’s main and most useful tool) and the wits of the player.
Combining the puzzle solving of point-and-click adventures with the plane and structure of classic platforming games such as Abe’s Oddyssey or Another World, Candle is a unique title. Each chapter is free form, allowing you to explore screen frames as you reach them, each of which has a number of factors which bar your progress. You’ll be pushing boxes, pulling levers, using items, setting things on fire and using a special ‘Shine’ power to reveal secrets in order to unblock your progress. For example, a cave is too dark for you to progress which means you need a light source. You could use your trusty candle but it’s raining and the flame is extinguished before you can get there. How do I create a shelter to help me move forward with my candle intact? Another example – a fellow villager is trapped in a tree which is dangling precariously over a deadly tar pit. A rope you picked up earlier is too short to reach him. How do I get closer in order to make the rope reach him?
In other instances, Wakcha warriors are barring your progress and, being fragile and unarmed so no match for them in a fight, you must use your smarts and the environment to defeat them. Candle is built on a lattice of multi-stage puzzles which stretch the length and breadth of each chapter, picking up items in one section to use in another, and on occasion, throughout the game. There’s a fair amount of trial and error involved in this game because it has a hands off nature and, much like the best point-and-click adventures, the solutions are often not immediately apparent. There’s an air of Monkey Island in the way some of the solutions come from deep in left field and this gives the game a lovely whimsical charm.
The world puzzles are joined by the occasional mini-game too. Sliding tile games and memory games are joined by unique puzzles requiring you to first understand the constructs of the puzzle and secondly, master them to come to a conclusion. The best of these is a lock box which has concentric disks on it which alter a puppet show between a warrior and a dragon. Where the disks are pointing when a button is pressed determines what actions the puppets take. It’s a simple puzzle but because of the laissez-faire nature of Candle, it’s one that begs to be understood first rather than just completed.
While Candle will test your grey matter, it places just as much emphasis on testing your reactions and observation skills. There are times when the game shifts gear and requires you to complete a platforming section quickly and precisely or meet a grizzly end. Even these are non-traditional and always have a puzzle element to them. As for the observation, there’s nothing in Candle that is incidental. The environments tell their own story and hold their own clues for you to read. See a bug flying around a branch? That’s not just there to add flavour to the game. The game introduces this aspect of its puzzle design early on by having a narrator tell you that “the solution is right in front of your eyes” when an instruction on the way forward is painted onto a rock but is melded with the environment. From here it builds until you’re scanning every inch of a screen to see anything that stands out.
And this is where the first frustrations come with Candle. Some of the solutions are so non-traditional and so well hidden that they feel cheapened by it. It took a total mistake, a mistimed jump, for me to find an integral item during the second chapter. There were no visual nods or subtle clues to this solution and this happens a hand full of times throughout the game. These few instances feel obtuse in a game made filled with smart puzzles and in those few moments, it felt like the game was trying to cheat rather than to challenge you.
Secondly, Candle lacks consistency in a hand full of its puzzles. In 90% of the game, exiting a screen frame and moving to the next will escape any danger that’s following you. If a Wakcha warrior is hot on your heals, it only takes to step into the next frame for them to return to their starting position when you return. It’s jarring then, that Candle occasionally asks you to carry an active ingredient from one screen to another in order to solve a puzzle. While it’s a smart and, one again, un-traditional aspect for this genre of game, it’s one that feels like it needed more signposting.
Lastly, while the story of Candle is an interesting one that’s slowly unravelled as you progress between chapters, the game struggles to portray a strong narrative between cut scenes. Conversations between Teku and other characters you meet are all represented through simplistic images which often require the narrator, the voice that follows the protagonist throughout the journey, to explain what they mean. Sometimes this is entirely unnecessary because the images are self-explanatory. Sometimes the images just aren’t succinct enough to tell you what the character wants and you have to rely on the narrators direction (which he only says once). I think I would have preferred these interactions if the narrator spoke while the images were being shown rather than at the end so as to add some context at the time, rather than trying to decipher their meaning before being told.
Thankfully, the visual splendour of Candle makes up for these short comings. The game has a hand crafted, water colour aesthetic which is original, eye catching and enticing. You can tell that Teku Studios poured their heart and soul into this aspect of the game and it shows. Each screen uses a myriad of hues to give the landscape and the foreground detail and depth like the cover of a Terry Pratchet book springing to life. The characters, their hand drawn shading shimmering between frames, have this living sketch quality that is entirely unique, taking something Machinarium started and builds upon it. The art style of Candle – The Power of the Flame is breath-taking at times with symbolism pouring through in every corner of every screen. Mountains look like birds. Cliffs look like the open maw of a beast. There’s always something to see and to interpret, even in the most mundane of the games frames.
Despite some obtuse solutions, regular backtracking and inconsistency, Candle – The Power of the Flame has a tight weave of puzzles which are reminiscent of those found in gaming classics like Flashback and Monkey Island. It’ll pay dividends to those with the patience and mental fortitude to stick it out, push through the frustrations (and resist finding a guide online) with an abundance of rewarding “Ah, THAT’s how you do it” moments. The art style, while not traditionally beautiful, is unique and alluring with a soundtrack to match. As a debut title, Candle is an abject success that just needed a little more consideration to the way the plot is delivered to really fulfill its potential.
Candle – The Power of the Flame is available now on PC, PS4 (review version), Xbox One and Switch.
Developer: Teku Studios
Publisher: Merge Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a review copy from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.