[Review] The Last Campfire – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer: Hello Games
  • Publisher: Hello Games
  • Release date: 27/8/2020
  • Price: £13.49 / $14.99
  • Review copy provided by Hello Games

Introducing: The Last Campfire Switch Review

I’m fairly sure that if you had asked the gaming community at large what their thoughts about the studio Hello Games was, you would have gotten a mixed response that encompassed the entire range, though they would likely fall on the more displeased side. It’s hard to forget just what the launch of No Man’s Sky was like. However, I have to admit that I have been impressed with the hard work that went into bringing the game up into and above what had been promised and with the way that they learned from their mistakes and now play things much closer to the chest than they used to.

They may have kept things a little too close to the chest on this one, though, since The Last Campfire seems to have sneaked out into the world with little warning or fanfare. After playing it, I have to say that that is a bit of a shame.

A Light in the Darkness

The Last campfire has you taking up the role of Ember, a cute little creature that is little more than a dark body and pair of beady eyes in an embroidered garment that’s hat and clothes all in one. We see one of these kind get separated from a group they were travelling with and end up drifting away in a boat on their own before ember awakens somewhere littered with destroyed tiny boats and the skeleton of someone else who was stranded there before. From there they are on a journey through the crumbling ruins of a sacred trial in a place between places to move on and help others while doing so. It’s one of those games where there is metaphor hanging under the story, but I won’t get too deeply into it here, since that might give some of what it has way and it’s definitely one of those games that you should experience for yourself rather than being told about. It’s told in this lovely storybook style with one voice speaking every line as though I am getting told a bedtime story and it works wonderfully.

Along their journey Ember is able to find others who have lost their hope while trying to make their way through the same place. By touching them, Ember is able to solve a small puzzle and restore hope to them, bringing them out of the comatose state that they are in. There is this wonderful message about aiding others and helping them to find their way that I really appreciated in the current state that our world is in. Is it simple and obvious in places, sure, but I honestly think this game would be great for kids and give a great chance to open up to conversations about empathy and being there for others who need support.

There is also this undercurrent of the stifling nature of stagnation with the character of The Forest King, who has made a nest in order to keep all the little travelers safe, claiming that it will keep them safe from being lost to the hopelessness. However, the areas surrounding the Forest King have the most of these lost souls. I always worry about these games where the narrative is kept a little more metaphorical that it won’t resolve satisfyingly since those stories can be hard to wrap up. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the way that the plot resoles was really satisfying to me and gave me the warm fuzzy feelings that I really needed a good shot of.

A Flame to Follow

Game play wise this is a puzzle game through and through, but with some adventuring element thrown in. While there are the little self-contained puzzles that happen whenever Ember encounters someone and needs to give their hope back to them, sometimes just finding these lost folks can be a puzzle in itself. There’s a lot of exploring that happens here in order to find either others in need of hope or even just items to get into places. It’s really satisfying to do. Eve if the game wasn’t making me find a certain number of people to help before it would open up the door to the next area, I would have strived to find them all anyway. The chief world I would use to describe it really is wholesome. It makes you want to find all these little creatures so that they can go to the campfire and seeing every one of them that you help gathered there is really sweet and makes you feel like you are having a tangible impact on this world as you move through it. It was this aspect that had me 100% completing the game on my first run through.

Each of the puzzles is well crated. While I never felt that I was getting well and truly stumped by them, they were still fun to figure out and each never took me more than a few attempts. I think that lots of kids might be able to manage it just fine, though really young ones are going to need a bit more help with it. New mechanics and concepts are introduced at a satisfying clip and I never felt that things were getting repetitive while I was playing. By far and away one of my favorite environmental puzzles involved building a map out of pieces and being able to rearrange them to change the world. The added element of  horn that can be used to move certain objects in the world not only for solving puzzles but also finding many of the secrets was added just far enough in that I felt like I was stable enough to use it and it made for some great discoveries.

The Remains of Hope

The game is really beautiful with bright colors that aren’t poppy enough that they feel garish. The colors also suit each area really well to build this sense of atmosphere and make each new segment of the game feel distinct from the others. Honestly, if a few filters were put over screenshots of the game, you could likely convince me that they were art from a kids book, it looks that great. The character designs are really great and each animal character is really suited for both the environment they are in and the task they are undertaking. Even the other traveler that Ember comes across have a design to them that makes it clear that they are all from the same people, but yet each of them is distinctive in some way. The little variations make all the difference and their animations are just as delightful (especially on The Forest King’s guards).

A Warm Touch

The Last Campfire runs pretty well no matter where you play it, but if you’re going handheld you do have the option of touch screen controls. This is another game that launched on Apple Arcade as well and it’s always good to see that those controls brought over for those who want the option. I tried them out and they worked really great, though I personally tend to prefer using controller with my switch so I didn’t make that much use of them.

The only problem that I ran into was some minor frame rate drops in a few places. They weren’t severe and it was never during anything important, but if that is something that bothers you a lot then be aware that it is there.

A Way to Move On

Overall, I think that The Last Campfire was a really great step for Hello Games as they move forward from their last project. I just wish that it had gotten a little more fanfare when it came out. I knew it was coming but it seemed that the actual arrival was quite a surprise. Perhaps this is because it is a rather small game and not very long, but the price is good and so are the contents so I can’t do anything but recommend it.

Pros

  • Adorable art style and animations
  • Warm, fuzzy, and wholesome
  • Great themes underlining the story
  • Fun puzzles that aren’t too hard

Cons

  • Some minor framerate drops here and there

Verdict

The Last Campfire is a wondrous little journey with breezy puzzles for all ages.

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