Following the Nintendo Direct announcement of No Man’s Sky coming to Nintendo Switch, it’s the perfect time to look at Hello Games’ other creative indie game offerings.
The Last Campfire, launched in August 2020 by the UK-based indie studio behind No Man’s Sky and the Joe Danger series, is a beautiful puzzle platformer with a compelling and deep story about meaning, hope, and coming to terms with mortality.
What is The Last Campfire about?
This delightful single-player indie game combines elements of adventure fantasy games and puzzle platformers. Playing as an adorable creature known only as Ember, resembling a giant pillowcase with limbs, you start the game in a convoy of rowing boats floating down a river with other creatures that look just like you.
When Ember’s boat drifts off course and wrecks within the deep dark forest, your adventure begins as you strive to find hope and rejoin your fellow creatures on their journey.
Coming across a mysterious campfire, you encounter a wise spirit guide, who tells Ember that they must rescue the ‘Forlorn’ – creatures like Ember that have got lost in the world that have lost all hope and turned almost to statues – in order to continue on your journey.
Rescuing each Forlorn requires Ember to solve various puzzles to regain their hope and help you carry on forward. (If you’re the type of player who loves the temple puzzles in games like Breath of the Wild, these sections will be perfect for you!) Once you’ve completed rescuing a certain number of Forlorn, the campfire spirit will allow you to proceed into the next area of your journey.
Overall, there are three main areas of The Last Campfire – the Forest, the Marsh, and the Cave – each of which comes with their own unique mechanics, beautiful scenery, and Forlorn puzzles to solve. You come across a whole slew of new and adorable characters – some you can save, some you can help, and some who unfortunately aren’t ready for Ember’s help.
All the while, you’re being watched from afar by something else…
Heartwarming And Heartfelt Storytelling
The premise of the overall story in The Last Campfire is beautiful. Written by the small Hello Games team, as well as the creative minds from games such as LostWinds, The Last Campfire is steeped in metaphor, with the themes of the game covering the everyday challenges that people encounter in life – from self-doubt and overcoming fear, to finding hope and summoning the determination to move on through. These are all emotions that Ember manages to convey without speaking even a line of dialogue.
In fact, the entire story is told by one female narrator, who does a fantastic job of setting the tone and atmosphere of The Last Campfire that sounds almost like a fable. This exceptional voice talent lends itself to an exceptionally talented game, with the soundtrack rivalling other atmospheric adventure games like Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight.
The puzzles in The Last Campfire were never too difficult (although there were some real headscratchers that took me a while, or I ended up solving by sheer luck!) The unique puzzles from each Forlorn were interesting and varied enough as a standalone without reusing the same ideas, while breaking up the main gameplay of platforming and puzzle-solving in the ‘real’ world.
You can also choose whether or not to save every single Forlorn before moving onto the next area. However, it’s well worth finding ways to reach each Forlorn in the area, as doing so will reward you with all in-game achievements upon completion without too much difficulty.
Perhaps the most interesting puzzles in The Last Campfire used the lanthorn – a small horn with the power to control certain aspects of the environment to help Ember move from place to place. Without giving too much away, each additional gameplay mechanic was simple but effective, and never over-complicated the experience.
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Put simply, the environments in The Last Campfire are gorgeous. From dark brooding forests and woody clearings in the Forest area, to cascading waterfalls and muddy quagmires in the Swamp, to the enormous stalactite-decorated chasms of the Cave, there was always something new and beautiful to see with each progression through the game. It makes the experience all the more worthwhile as you’re travelling through the landscape, with graphics as beautiful to look at as the game is to play.
In addition to the environment design, the character designs are just exquisite. If you’re a fan of cute-looking protagonist characters, Ember should come very high on your list – they’re just so cute! Speaking of cute, this game features the most adorable pigs I’ve ever seen in a video game (no really!) The creatures Ember encounters, from feathered bird guards to a giant turtle chef, are all given the same attention to detail to bring the world to life, and makes it feel very naturally inhabited, rather than NPCs plonked in willy-nilly to give players something to do.
Some Unintended Challenges
There are very few bad things to say about a game like The Last Campfire. However, the most noticeable was some stuttering in the framerate encountered when loading in objects while playing on PC. Upon my approach to the mysterious Forest King, I noticed it particularly when walking towards the bird guards, whose feathers were a tad janky when loading in, but besides that, it was barely an issue.
Some of the story was also quite open-ended and left unexplained, but in a way, I’m glad it wasn’t over-explained, as it leaves things up to the player’s own interpretation, making it a meaningful individual experience.
Finally, I just wish there was more of it! I find myself wishing for just one more Forlorn puzzle, just one more area to explore, just one more…
Here’s hoping that the small Hello Games team will be able to provide us with more The Last Campfire content in future, if not a whole new game! There would be plenty of fans of the game lining up for it – this game deserves the Overwhelmingly Positive status it has on Steam, hands down.
The Last Campfire is a beautiful gem of an indie game, with atmospheric environments to explore, dozens of interesting characters to encounter, and puzzles galore to solve in your quest to rekindle hope. This was my favourite game to complete in a very long time, with a satisfying conclusion, and this has set the bar extremely highly for creative indie games of the future.