Title: The Last Campfire
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2020
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
It’s not very often when a video game makes you stop and think about life so it always catches you off guard when it does.
That was the case with The Last Campfire, a puzzle-adventure game from independent developer Hello Games. Not only was this short adventure a lot of fun to traverse, but it’s deeper meaning can leave a lasting impact on those who play.
This game received a lot of praise upon its initial release and still seems to have a place among players’ hearts almost three years later.
Warning: This review may contain light spoilers.
Synopsis: Looking to Move On
Players control Ember, a creature hidden under a pillow-looking hood. Ember’s boat wrecks on the shores of a strange world filled with environmental puzzles.
As Ember explores the world, they come across other similar creatures encased in stone. In this state, they are called “Forlorn.”
Ember works to free the stuck souls, learning that each one became this way because they lost hope in ever reaching their final destination.
As Ember frees the Forlorn, they discover that the freed creatures gather around a campfire as they prepare to “move on.” There is no specifics on what that means as it seems left up to the player’s interpretation.
While Ember is freeing the Forlorn, she comes across other souls dressed as birds with The Forest King leading the “birds.” The Forest King appears as a large bird seated upon a throne. The “birds” discourage Ember from helping the Forlorn and that the protagonist would be best to stay safely in the nest.
Ember continues their journey and upon freeing the rest of the souls, Ember learns of the mysteries of the Forest King. Throughout the journey, Ember finds various journal entries that explain the journey of the Wanderer as they arrived in the strange world.
Gameplay: A Puzzling New World
The Last Campfire is considered a puzzle-adventure game.
Players solve environmental puzzles to free the Forlorn. These puzzles are really similar to what you would find in a shrine in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
When Ember isn’t saving Forlorn, they are exploring the strange world. The path is fairly linear, but there is some small amount of freedom. There is no combat as the environmental puzzles extend to the areas on the map and require solving before advancing.
Ember also collects 42 journal entries throughout the game. These are in hidden treasure chests situated across the strange world.
The player can also pick up various items to help them solve any riddles that may lead to a Forlorn or treasure chest.
The narration is unique. It features one voice narrating like the reading of a children’s book. You never hear the voices of others, only the spoken narration.
Analysis: A Game With Heart
There have always been arguments in favor and against video games being art. I do believe video games should be considered art and this game is one of the reasons why.
This game’s story is simple yet deep. It’s about helping others who have lost hope and the will to continue on their journey. It also has allusions to an afterlife as the main world appears to be a Limbo of sorts.
The Last Campfire invited a lot of different interpretations. I think anyone who plays this game might see it in a different light.
The theme of helping others was a great motif, especially given the backdrop of when it came out.
The Last Campfire released in 2020, a pivotal year in the U.S. and the World. In the U.S., political divisions continued to divide Americans as the U.S. was en route to an extremely divisive presidential election.
Also going on at the time was the COVID-19 pandemic that forced isolation and mask-wearing as a means of helping out others. It was a time when hope could be hard to come by for many people in many situations.
I don’t know if this was on the mind of the developers, but the message of The Last Campfire spoke loudly during an incredibly divisive and isolated year. This concept stuck out so poignantly to me.
The idea of not losing hope is such a relatable message, especially given current world events. The developers laid this out so simply in The Last Campfire.
Aside from the story, another great part was the gameplay. Its use of environmental puzzles was simple and a lot of fun. Fans of The Legend of Zelda will feel right at home.
Each puzzle to awaken a Forlorn was reminiscent of the shrines in Breath of the Wild. None of the puzzles were difficult, but solving them was extremely satisfying.
The world was pretty as it used a colorful look. While the path is largely linear, it still was fun to roam through the various areas and bask in their beauty. My only complaint was not having a map to keep myself grounded.
The world isn’t too big so it’s not too bad not having one, but any backtracking felt like wandering despite the small area. Some areas even turned as you moved around, making it hard to remember which direction was which way.
Music for the world was quiet and atmospheric. The tracks weren’t too memorable but did fit the mood of this strange world.
One aspect I didn’t enjoy was the narration. The entire game is narrated similar to someone reading a book. Even your actions are narrated at times.
It’s not that the narration is bad voice acting because it is well done. It’s more of the manner in which the game uses it that didn’t connect with me.
I appreciate Hello Games trying something new, but this just never landed with me. Some may like this approach, however.
I played this game on the Nintendo Switch and, for the most part, it ran well. There were minor technical hiccups, especially around entering a new area. The game took a minute to catch up before reaching its full speed again.
I’m not sure if this is a Switch issue or if it appeared on other consoles, but it did take me out of a largely immersive experience.
Final Score (4 out of 5 Stars)
The Last Campfire is a great game. It took me about 10 hours to get through while most players took about six to beat it entirely.
The message of the game is deep and perfect for the modern era. Gameplay is fantastic, especially if you’re a The Legend of Zelda fan who needs something to tide them over until Tears of the Kingdom.
The game does suffer from technical issues at times and the lack of a map can make getting lost easy, though the world is small enough that this won’t last long. Still, I loved my time with Ember as they helped return hope to the various souls in their path.
Hello Games really created a gem of a game that doesn’t cost a lot to enjoy. If you’re looking for a puzzle game to pass the time, this is the perfect game for you.
The Boss Rush Podcast is the flagship podcast of Boss Rush Media and The Boss Rush Network. Each week, Corey, LeRon, Stephanie, Edward, and their friends from around the internet come together to talk their week in games, entertainment, and more while also bringing topics for conversation, answer listener and community questions, and cover major news and events happening in the video game industry. Watch The Boss Rush Podcast live on Wednesday Nights on Twitch at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT or on Monday mornings at 7 a.m. ET on YouTube and podcast services everywhere. Thanks for listening! You can also get this episode one week early on Patreon.
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Featured Image: Hello Games (via Nintendo)