Reviewed on Xbox One
Candleman is an indie platformer developed by Spotlightor Interactive. You play as the titular Candleman, who’s more candle than a man, making his way through a dark but beautiful world. The game portrays itself like a children’s storybook, splitting its levels into chapters and having a mother-like narrator. It’s a charming world with some dark depth, despite the simplistic narrative, but its flame does start to flicker towards the finale.
Candleman’s main mechanic is light; in each level you have ten seconds of total burn time before you’re snuffed out. This limit means you can only afford to flash your flame for a moment to find traps in a dark area, create platforms, or ward off enemies. This use of time management adds depth to what would otherwise be shallow gameplay, particularly in later levels where if you’re not constantly moving you’ll be burning more wax and risking death.
I appreciate the trust that the developers have in the players, as Candleman’s mechanics are never explicitly told. The titles of each level will hint at what’s coming, but it’s down to the player to figure out changes in the world. It’s not too difficult, as almost everything will involve your light, but it is satisfying to discover the impact you have on the environment, like growing plants. Subtle elements, like the way wax will drip onto the floor as you burn, also add to the detail and aid gameplay, as players can use the drips to mark routes through a dark areas.
Even the collectables, stationary candles that players ignite, also affect the world, creating permanent light sources that provide sanctuary from enemies or maintain light-based platforms. Most of the candles are directly in your path, but there are a few tricky ones that also provide an additional challenge.
Unfortunately, Candleman fades in its final chapter. Whereas the second to last chapter is fantastic, layering light, time management, and movement mechanics in challenging ways, the final chapter utilises almost none of these. Instead it turns into a standard platformer where you jump from spot to spot.
Framerate drops are also frequent during these stages, due to the amount of moving objects. The drops aren’t so severe that they significantly affect gameplay, but they do break immersion.
But it’s the final cinematic is that completely undercuts the story, as Candleman is stripped of its charm and hopefulness in its final minute with an almost throwaway conclusion. I’m a fan of not-so-happy endings, but not when it’s a sudden shift in tone that leaves me unfulfilled.