Originally released for the Xbox One in January of 2017 and now being released for the PC on Steam exactly a year later, Candleman is a physics puzzler with an interesting angle: you play as a living candle who can light himself for 10 seconds to help navigate through darkened levels full of pits and miscellaneous hazards. Of course, that’s a slightly misleading characterization of what gameplay is actually like, as you’re also given 10 lives per level, and all of the wax dropped and candles lit along the way persist between lives, meaning that it’s actually more like 100 seconds of lighting per level. On top of that, levels tend to be relatively short, ensuring that even the 10 seconds of your first life are enough if carefully managed. The easiest way of getting a handle on what the gameplay is actually like, though, is to simply watch a video, and I’m including several below that highlight the evolution of the gameplay mechanics as you progress through the game’s chapters.
The first few levels are the hardest
Candleman’s opening few levels aren’t exactly difficult, but it takes a little getting used to the physics of the candle’s jump. Beyond which, these tend to be among the darkest levels. There’s another reason I’m embedding the video above, however, and that’s to point out what happens when you finish a level without lighting all of the candles along the way. The goal of each level is to reach the glowing end point, but a secondary goal is to light all of the level’s candles, and these are always nearby despite being cleverly hidden by the camera angles. Each level offers part of a short poem, and finishing without the candles all being lit shows that part of the poem again. If you’ve collected all candles, on the other hand, you’ll get a second line to the poem. I don’t know if this actually factors into anything but completionism.
Slow and steady wins the race
Most failures in Candleman boil down to impatience, as watching hazards to figure out their patterns is a pretty safe way of getting through levels. That said, there are definitely some difficulty spikes here, and these usually come in the form of changing camera angles that make it difficult to gauge jump height and tell where you are in relation to the rest of the level. You can see that in the video above at ~2:30, where the candle jumps onto some moving boxes and has to dodge hazards by jumping between boxes and trying not to fall between the cracks. Harder sections like this aren’t too bad because Candleman also includes a mid-level checkpoint candle (~2:13), but it’s nevertheless worth mentioning that some of the jumps feel like leaps of faith when the camera’s distance and orientation switch unexpectedly.
Lighting changes the environment
It doesn’t take long to get into stages that put the early ones to shame. Where before you lit in order to light candles and see the path forward, suddenly lighting causes parts of the environment to briefly stay lit (helping you figure out where platforms are), and even causes hazardous flowers to grow larger. In later stages, lighting can cause spiky hazards to grow and fall from their vines, knocking out other hazards as the physics roll them down pathways. I didn’t expect this degree of creativity, but levels feel undeniably dynamic and are always bringing something new to the table.
There are a few things I want to point out with the video above. First, the flowers that bloom when you light are incredibly pretty. Candleman’s focus on light allows the colors to be incredibly striking at times. The second thing I want to bring up is the camera angle at 1:58, where you can see me struggling to gauge jump height given the overhead camera. This isn’t as big a problem as I’m probably making it sound, but it is one of those small irritations that continues popping up every so often. Finally, there’s what happens when you go over your 10 seconds in Candleman. The colors all become desaturated and you have a small grace period to finish the level, and failing to do so causes you to lose a life. You can see that happen a few times as I was looking for a candle I missed. It’s not much of a penalty, and I think that’s why the 10 seconds you’re given never feels like an unnecessary or unfair limitation.
I found a strange physics quirk
If you land on the outer edge of where you can stand on circular objects like pipes, your ability to jump will stop registering until you move around a bit and convince the game that you are, in fact, on solid ground. I suspect that what’s happening here is that this particular angle causes the physics to believe that the candle is still in the process of falling, and while it’s not a huge problem (especially since the trek through the forest means that you quickly stop dealing with pipes), this did happen to me twice and could probably stand to be polished up a bit in a patch.
Otherwise, Candleman: The Complete Journey is proving itself to be a surprisingly great puzzle-platformer, and I look forward to seeing what later levels have in store.