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Game Info:

Candleman: The Complete Journey 
Developed by: Spotlightor Interactive
Published by: Zodiac Interactive
Release date: January 31, 2018
Available on: Windows, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4; partial versions on Android, iOS
Genre: 3D Platformer
Number of players: Single player
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
Price: $14.99

Thank you, Zodiac Interactive, for sending us a review key!

Candleman is a fairy tale. It joins storybook narration to fantastical art design. The levels take you from a ship to a library to an enchanted forest and more. All this, as best I can tell, is in service to one thing: helping the player accept that they are playing as a bipedal candle. Candleman is pretty, and the story it tells is oddly uplifting. But if you choose to pick it up, do it for the gameplay. Candleman is the best 3D candle platformer ever, and it just might be among the best 3D platformers in years.

The game opens on a candle looking at itself in a mirror and having an existential crisis. The narrator tells you that the candle wants to know why it exists and wonders if it can shine as bright as yonder lighthouse. Feel free to ignore the premise; Tolkien it isn’t. The important thing is the game’s main mechanic: your character is a candle that can burn for ten seconds total over the course of each level. Other than that, the candle can move and jump. That’s it.

Burning is used for navigation; as you might expect, Candleman is a dark game overall. Each level contains a certain number of hidden candles that must be lit for 100% completion. Lighting all the candles grants the second half of the short poetic couplets used to name each level. I consider lighting all of these candles part of the essential experience. The levels might appear fantastical, but they are very economic in their design. If you find a nook, there is probably a candle hidden there. The challenge is in using the level’s unique gimmick to reach the candles. They serve the practical purpose of illuminating the levels, and most levels would be much shorter without them. This is not necessarily bad; as time challenge mode demonstrates, most levels can be cleared in less than three minutes when the player is focused purely on reaching the end. As someone who never speedruns games, I found two to three minutes an ideal length for a level in which I might mess up at the end and lose my wonderful time.

Candleman: The Complete Journey
Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent level design; smooth difficulty curve; good art and lighting design; consistently surprising use of light mechanics; well-positioned camera; story and time challenge modes offer very different experiences of the same levels
Weak Points: The last quarter of the game is weaker than the rest; occasional keyboard control issues
Moral Warnings: Ghosts, one of which can eat the candle; Candle can “die” due to crushing, falling, fire, and ghosts; Some frightening moments

Lighting hidden candles is the skeleton of Candleman; the meat is the levels themselves. Candleman has twelve worlds averaging four levels apiece. The worlds are loosely grouped mechanically and thematically in sets of three, dividing the entire game into quarters. Without spoiling all the fun mechanics involved, I want to give a brief overview of the structure of the game. The first quarter introduces the basic mechanics and physics system, requiring the candle to push around platforms in water and adjust to the shifting gravity of a ship at sea. The game quickly sheds its thin veneer of physics simulation in the land of magical books and bottles of fairy dust. The second quarter is easily the most beautiful; the candle’s light is used to explore a colorful enchanted garden. Quarter three was my favorite, and quarter four, in a manner well-attested among great games, was the weakest.

It would be hard to list all the clever ways the candle’s light is used even if I wanted to spoil them. (Except one thing showed in the game’s trailer: there are flying lanterns, like you might know from China or Tangled.) Sometimes plants will grow at your approach. Some creatures will fear—or chase—your light. Ice, water, and fire react to the candle in the same way they would in reality; it feels like there’s a real candle in the world of the game. Still, the strength of the game is the world-by-world gimmicks which never get old. At the halfway point, when I thought the game was out of ideas, it surprised me with a difficult mechanistic world followed by a magical mirror world.

Whatever the world’s primary gimmick, the game makes sure you understand it before forcing you to use it under pressure. This classic principle of game design is used to great effect here. A potential downside of the carefully-graded difficulty curve is that the story never feels particularly challenging. It’ll make you think, certainly, but not for long. I was rarely stuck on a level. Even so, a completionist run of the story took me about six hours. For a video game, five to six hours is often considered short. In the case of Candleman, it felt about right. Note that this review is of the full version of the game as available on computers and consoles; currently, the mobile versions do not seem to include all worlds.

Candleman: The Complete Journey
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 92%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - -10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

I would be remiss not to praise Candleman’s camerawork. Since the dawn of the N64, the camera have been the worst aspect of many a 3D game. Candleman answers the problem by setting the camera angle and moving it for you as you go about each level. This ensures that you nearly always see what you need to. I can remember only two times that the candle was completely hidden behind level geometry. A fixed camera also mitigates the motion sickness I sometimes feel in 3D games after playing them for a while. The camera is not perfect, but it is very good.

“Controls follow suit,” is what I really wanted to say. It’s almost true. However, Candleman is a port of an Xbox One game, and with porting typically comes bizarre issues. Candleman’s controller support is solid. It’s so solid that a controller shaves significant time off of challenge runs. A keyboard will get you through the game, but it will slow you down if you try to race with it. Also, on two levels, the keyboard controls got stuck, running the candle in one direction and off a ledge until I paused and unpaused the game. Like I said, a keyboard is sufficient to play the game. A controller is ideal.

The game is nonviolent in general. The candle can “die” to any number of hazards, from fire to crushers to spiky plants to ghosts. One of the ghosts, if it touches you, makes a distinctive crunching sound as the candle disappears. It’s a little disturbing, though not as much as the only boss-like encounter in the game. You don’t fight; you run. Still, the boss encounter involves—mild spoilers through the end of the paragraph—a scarier experience with a lighthouse lamp than I thought possible. Technically it is a nightmare sequence. (Why not give the candle a nightmare sequence?) Nevertheless, the boss feels like it was designed by H.P. Lovecraft.

As a game, Candleman is straightforward and does not overstay its welcome. It is not challenging; it is merely fun. The story about the value of one’s place in the world interested me more than I expected even as the game stumbled toward its lower-quality yet pretty ending. Afterward, the gameplay was enough to bring me to the time trial mode. If “3D platforming candle” isn’t enough to get your attention, perhaps “good 3D platforming candle” is.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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