The simple joy of a puzzle game that lets you take it at your own pace holds a special place in my heart. The short and sweet adventure of The Last Campfire really rekindled that flame for me (apologies for the easy pun). I’ve had an interest in the game for a long time, and my timing for playing it could not have been more appropriate. The story of Hello Games has become well established after the infamy of their 2016 release, No Man’s Sky, and the turnaround in opinion after its release. The Last Campfire is the first game published by the studio since then and was more of a small-scale passion project by three developers: Steve Burgess, Chris Symonds and James Chilcott. With the more focused scale and personal feeling put into it, The Last Campfire presents an experience of self-reflection and a very wholesome underlying message that stuck with me. Coming out in August 2020 proved to be the most appropriate time for a game with these messages to be released.
With a focus on the concepts of helping others and a loss of purpose, The Last Campfire’s minimal story still manages to pack a good deal of punch. The player controls a wayward soul referred to as Ember, who is trying to find their way ‘home’ while helping other embers/lost souls along the way of the journey referred to as the forlorn. The game’s story and themes are elevated by the game’s narration which is present throughout, and the voice work from Rachel August fits the game’s tone flawlessly. Her voice gives the game an almost storybook feeling, which makes the experience of playing it feel very mystical as a result.
Each forlorn you meet has their own way of referring to their struggle of finding their way towards each campfire, some of which will almost inevitably be relatable depending on the individual player. As someone who ‘rescued’ all of the forlorn, I will say it feels a little overdone, with each forlorn not being developed so much as to make each one relatable but also making some of them feel too similar. However, it is not essential to get every forlorn, so the player can limit this repetition if they so wish. While I will not spoil it here, my personal favourite aspect of the forlorn was the extra forlorn in between each puzzle area, who present a powerful message all on their own.
Puzzle games have a unique element where even the simplest of gameplay mechanics can allow for great variety if done right, which I feel this game pulls off. Ember’s adventure leads them to several different large campfires which are surrounded by puzzles for the player to either find forlorn or journal pages which serve as extra collectables. Each forlorn has its own puzzle rooms which you need to traverse through, pulling/pushing objects until you can reach their inner fire. Despite this basic setup which all the puzzles follow, the gameplay never feels repetitive and has a good variety of puzzles that aren’t rage-inducing or too easy.
After completing the first area of the game you gain the Lanthorn, which expands the puzzles to include moving metallic objects. This addition and its placement worked wonders to make the game feel much more alive and gave a great opportunity to enhance each of the puzzles. The only issues I have in the gameplay are the occasional framerate drops on the Switch version and the lack of difficulty in the final puzzle. The former issue is not too much of a hindrance and just occasionally ruins the immersion; the latter complaint is more personal preference as the final puzzle isn’t insanely easy, but the additional difficulty would’ve helped the game’s ending feel more satisfying.
Complementing the mystical feeling that the story and setting establish, the music works in tandem with it very well. Admittedly, compared to other games the music here is very understated despite being suitable for each scenario – which, while not a major fault, doesn’t help it to stick out greatly. There aren’t any tracks that are at all bad but, aside from the main menu theme and the credits music, none of them were too attention-grabbing personally.
The visual styling of The Last Campfire truly stands out and pops from the moment you begin to play. The environment design gives the impression of a rich fantasy world, which was only enhanced by the special creatures you find along your journey. The visual flourishes on the campfire were a personal highlight with the spirit at each campfire, and the fire turning blue once enough forlorn were rescued – both looking great and only enhancing the mystical aspects of the game even more. The colour palette is vibrant and makes every section pop in its own unique way depending on its aesthetic, which I really enjoyed.
This game being advertised as a Hello Games short really displays the game’s appeal: a short and sweet experience that tells an important message. The Last Campfire may have flown under the radar for a lot of people, but I definitely feel it is worth everyone’s time for the personal experience you may have with the theme. If you’re looking for a puzzle game that’ll truly stump you, this may not be the game to play (in that case, I’d recommend something closer to The Witness). But regardless of that, The Last Campfire is a short puzzle game that is more than worth your time.
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Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games