by Justin Snyder
reviewed on PC
In Emberwind, you play the role of Kindle Elderwood, is a gnome watchman tasked with saving the city of Grendale from attacking gremlins and their evil leader, CandleFinger. That's about all there is to this story. In most games that would signal a problem but not so in this game. You see, Emberwind is really all about the gameplay. One level following another, the player is tasked with rescuing all of his fellow citizens. This means clearing all of the gremlins from their houses and taking out all of the enemies. What makes this interesting is that the player's character is a gnome. In the fantasy genre, that isn't exactly common as gamers usually crawl into the skin of a human or elf character, along with the occasional dwarf.
Platforming with a twist
Emberwind is very much a platformer, but one with some action-adventure influences. One feature that makes the game go beyond the platformer norm is how combat is conducted. It is nothing groundbreaking, but instead of trying to avoid or having to simply dispatch enemies, the player's character sports a range of special attacks. It's nice to play a platformer with some closer-to-real combat elements as opposed to the usual jumping over, around and on enemies. For instance, one attack sees Kindle turn into a Metroid-esque spinning ball which provides a great way to take out lines of enemies.
The varying special attacks are supplemented by an interesting magic system. Sprites, little pixie-like characters, serve to gift Kindle with different abilities. One allows him to shoot fireballs with his cane. This has the added benefit of occasionally working on enemies you are already fighting up close, supplementing your regular attacks. Another will put any gremlins within a certain range to sleep. Kindle can only have one sprite with him at any given time, so if you want to change, you have to find another one and drop the one you have.
The game includes a very light leveling system, reminiscent of the action genre. There are runes that you can find throughout each level that will increase your attack power. In addition, levels up from time to time after defeating a number of enemies. This only results in increasing his health but it's a nice touch not often seen in the genre. Despite these novel additions to the genre, the developers took great care in balancing the game so that the player never becomes too powerful.
Building up the challenge
Even though the game is fun and enjoyable, that doesn't mean it is easy. Aside from the many kinds of gremlins you will meet, you will also encounter cannons that need to be disabled and various enemy vehicles. It all comes together very well and it is more of a fun challenge than a source of frustration. The checkpoint system does make life a little easier, too. Whenever you die, your progress in that level is still saved. So all of the enemies you have taken out, hidden items you have found, and citizens you have saved will all carry over. The levels where you might die repeatedly for any given reason are much less aggravating this way.
The level design is great. The first few levels are simple and let the player get the hang of the game. But after that, they increase in complexity. The best thing is that there isn't any set path to the levels. You can do anything you want, in any order, and explore as much as you want. And explore you will. Developer TimeTrap filled the levels with many, many secrets, ranging from the aforementioned runes and sprites, to hidden caves filled with treasure chests. Exploring the levels to find these secrets is a great way to break up the combat. Another great reason to explore is to take in the scenery. While this game isn't on the same graphical level that we are used to from bigger titles, the levels still look great in their own way with a great cartoonish fantasy theme.
Emberwind is a solid game. I honestly can't find anything wrong with it, beyond that it doesn't necessarily bring any groundbreaking new features to the genre. Some would complain about a lack of multiplayer, but I don't really see the need in a title like this. The game will satisfy any casual gamer and even the biggest of hardcore gamers should find something to enjoy. I for one will certainly return to the city of Grendale for some repeat action to fill the time between the big AAA titles releases this spring.
Great level design.