Hello Games have had their hands full with No Mans Sky for years but a few of the team had been working on a passion project in their spare time. This project is called The Last Campfire. An emotionally charged puzzle platformer, this is the very definition of a hidden gem of gaming. Delightful to play and full of wonder and charm, this is a game you don’t want to miss.
The Last Campfire sees you play as Ember, a character who is between plains travelling from one to the next. I use that description carefully as the game is rife with symbolism and interesting thoughts on choosing between things. Ember arrives at a campfire and feels somewhat confused and lost when a spirit emerges from the flames to ask whether or not Ember wants to move on or help others move on alongside Ember. You have to rescue a few to move on together but its up to you if you want to save them all.
You see, the world is both beautiful and dangerous and others have become lost – or forlorn – as the game terms it. Other Embers have lost their spark, drowned their sorrows, become stuck in the daily grind of life. Each one has their own sad and grey backstory and each one has its own puzzle to solve. It truly is a clever Russian doll of game design.
There are three overworlds with plenty of puzzles and light platforming to conquer so that you can find and reach the Embers. When you do the game almost seamlessly crossfades to a unique puzzle to snap that Ember back to life. They can be block puzzles, tower building, careful platforming or using elemental puzzles. They feel familiar to puzzle enthusiasts but offer quirky takes on old tropes. The entire game is narrated by a Nordic female voice who gives poetic insight into each Ember’s plight as well as your own. Its with this heavy childlike wisdom that you gain meaning to the puzzles. Early on, she speaks of someone feeling like their inner fire as been blown out. Their puzzle is to carry a flame past lots of wind gusting blocks. The whole thing is utterly charming rather than feeling too on the nose and I felt the plight of the Embers deeply no matter how short a time I spent with them. The puzzles are all unique and as Ember gains more abilities, they become more varied than just block pushing or mechanical platform creation.
The worlds themselves are also puzzles to be solved. There was a particular section in the second world where you build a map on the wall and all the tiles are rotatable. This then changes all the paths and accessible areas in the world. Its a ingenious way of keeping you on your toes between the set pieces and I thoroughly enjoyed getting around trying to grab all the collectables.
As you free Embers from their inner demons, they gather at the overworld central spot – a campfire. Once you reach the minimum limit you can then progress on but I found myself compelled to find every last one and save them. This was down to the beautiful graphic and sound design that made playing The Last Campfire such a joy, despite the potentially saddening tone and subject matters. I found that I wanted to help these little creatures see that they can choose a happier path in life. The game is very lenient too. You can’t die and puzzles can all be reset if you get stuck. The campfire spirit will offer hints if you aren’t sure where to look either. Some may have a bit of a moan at the easier challenge of the game but for me, it made sense to pitch it this way. This experience is to help you choose to fight, to rally yourself and smile. Being hardcore would go against the narrative grain.
Deserving much applause and success in spades, The Last Campfire is uniquely positive gaming experience. It teaches to see the options and the better side of life and I came away from it with a beaming aura. It is one of those whimsical faery tales that fits its graphics, sound and playstyle together perfectly. Easily one of the best gaming experiences of 2020.
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