Candleman: The Complete Journey Review
What makes a platformer good? The answer to that question is subject to a lot of interpretation, but in my opinion, there are a few main factors: it needs to control well, it needs a memorable central character, and it needs some sort of gameplay hook. Candleman: The Complete Journey meets those expectations but doesn’t exceed them. Still, it’s a charming, and often beautiful, platformer even if the new Complete Journey edition doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table.
The concept behind Candleman is deceptively simple. You take control of a small, walking candle and have to traverse various 3D stages getting from point A to point B. The catch is the environments are almost completely dark and you can only burn your wick for ten seconds total on each stage. It’s a fun concept and adds a level of intensity to the gameplay that would be sorely missed otherwise, but it doesn’t feel nearly as inventive as something like Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey. What this mechanic does allow, though, is a fantastic emphasis on atmosphere.
The game is broken up into chapters, and plays out much like a fairy tale, albeit a rather solemn one. Each chapter has its own “theme”, usually introducing a minor tweak to the gameplay. For example, one chapter sees our titular character navigating through a lush, forested area with colorful flowers that bloom brilliantly when you bring light near them. Another takes place in an iron-filled industrial area with pipes that spew deadly flames. Candleman places a great deal of focus on contrast and shadow, often times only providing a few isolated sources of light. Even the levels with a more constant light source manage to make it feel dynamic by how it casts shadows on the carefully constructed environments. This creates a wonderful atmosphere that feels both whimsical and eerie. When it comes to getting around these environments, however, Candleman stumbles a bit.
“This simplicity makes the game easy to pick up and get the hang of right away, but later on it starts to feel stale.”
Though Candleman himself feels precise to move around, he is incredibly slow and lacks a lot of mobility options you might see in other platformers. The control scheme is incredibly simple: you can move, jump, light up, and that’s it. This simplicity makes the game easy to pick up and get the hang of right away, but later on it starts to feel stale. This is mostly an issue in the larger, more open levels where you have to walk through long stretches at a time. Here, Candleman feels slower than a snail, and occasionally had me yelling at my computer screen for him to hurry up already. Having Candleman gain an additional movement ability later on could have resolved this, but it probably would go against the vision the developers had in mind for the game. Candleman’s sluggish nature also becomes an issue in a few sections where the checkpoints are poorly placed. Restarting from a checkpoint much too near the beginning of the stage and then having to slowly do it all over again sapped a lot of the enjoyment.
Candleman doesn’t attempt anything risky with its simple story, but it’s still a mostly effective tale about finding one’s purpose and carving out an identity. Candleman never speaks, rather you learn his feelings though an omniscient narrator. This only adds to the game’s storybook aesthetic, and helped me feel more connected to this little candle’s journey. This peculiar game about an anthropomorphic candle actually had me thinking about some deep topics such as the impact we have on those around us and the importance of having goals while managing expectations, and that was truly surprising. I also enjoy the ending quite a bit and feel like it wraps up Candleman’s journey in a neat and emotionally affecting way.
Though Candleman originally released on Xbox One in 2017, the Complete Journey version contains a new time trial mode and promises enhanced visuals. Though I can’t comment on the enhanced visuals feature since I never played the Xbox version, I can say the time trial mode is a nice addition. In the time trial mode, which unlocks after the game is completed, you can race through each level and see how you stack up against other players around the world via in-game leaderboards. Though this new mode is welcome, it certainly doesn’t justify buying the game again if you already played it on Microsoft’s console last year.
Candleman may not be a very energetic or exciting platformer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an effective one. It feels more like a journey of quiet self-reflection than an action-packed thrill ride. It’s a game full of beautiful imagery and a surprisingly worthwhile tale that’s only hampered by a few shortcomings. In the end, Candleman is not a perfect storybook platformer, and it doesn’t have to be.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
- Controls feel precise
- Beautiful use of light & color
- Touching ending
- Movement is sluggish
- Poorly placed checkpoints