I’ll start this post by mentioning the fact that I’m not really much of a gamer these days. I still play video games, but a gamer I most definitely am not. I grew up on the Commodore 64 in school and started with Atari 2600 at home. I moved onto Nintendo and Sega and had just about all of their systems – including the N64 and the Dreamcast. PlayStation came along and I’ve been with them through PS3. Xbox hit the market but I didn’t join that club until Xbox One. PC gaming has never really been my thing. And through all of that I spent more than a couple of quarters at the local arcade.
I like games and playing games, but I am not a gamer.
Somehow, however, I stumbled onto Apple Arcade on the iPad. There was a promo running wherein your first month was free and you could try something like 20 games during that month at no cost. Bored and aimlessly browsing the internet on said iPad I decided to give it a try. I ran through a few games that killed enough time but didn’t really strike a cord or keep my attention long.
Until The Last Campfire.
Developed by Hello Games, most famous for their No Man’s Sky title, The Last Campfire is described by the studio as “an adventure, a story of a lost ember trapped in a puzzling place, searching for meaning and a way home.” That’s pretty apt when it comes to nutshell descriptions, but The Last Campfire is so much more.
Hello Games continues with:
- DISCOVER A PURPOSE: The Last Campfire is an adventure, a story of a lost ember trapped in a puzzling place, searching for meaning and a way home.
- ON A JOURNEY: Travel deeper into the lands beyond the dark forest and overcome the adversities before you.
- UNCOVER A WORLD: Discover beautiful wilderness filled with lost folk, strange creatures and mysterious ruins.
- LIGHT THE LAST CAMPFIRE: Find hope and carry it with you on your journey to light The Last Campfire.
- FROM A SMALL STUDIO: A unique tale from Hello Games and the creative minds behind LostWinds.
And with that, you start to have a better idea of what you’re in for when you set down to play The Last Campfire.
In the game you are Ember, this small and sweet sort of faceless, sexless, ageless character that wears something like a giant sock with weird patterns sewn into it with a hole for your eyes and who carries a satchel. You’re vague. You’re cute. And, in fact, in the game you and those like you are only referred to as “they” or “them”. As if you’re all pieces to or parts of something greater than your self.
Your aim is to, not so surprisingly, light the last campfire. In doing so, you provide a light to which others who look mostly like you, give or take, are attracted to and, indeed, a part of. Others like you who have lost the way. Others like you who have lost hope. Others like you who have become forlorn.
Somewhere between a platformer and a puzzle game – or maybe more accurately, somewhere where the two meet – The Last Campfire is visually stunning and unique. The characters throughout are unique in design while feeling familiar. The landscape and scenery design is downright gorgeous, especially for an overall “cartoonish” and stylized rendering. The sound design and music are off the charts remarkable – soothing, fitting, varied, cohesive, relaxed. The narrator voice is a sweet and quirky and peculiar female voice, European ethnicity of vague specificity.
On the iPad the game is a touchscreen play scenario, wherein you simply touch the screen where you want Ember to go. When you are to solve puzzles, you play your lanthorn and actively swipe and drag your finger on the screen to get the various bits to move where and how you wish. Speaking of the puzzles, these are incredibly and entirely unique takes on some relatively basic and otherwise familiar video game puzzle mechanics that both challenge and delight to varying degrees. Initially, I found some puzzles to be a bit perplexing, but as you get into the game you start to better understand what is expected from various types of puzzles. “A Complex Machine” was probably the most challenging puzzle in the game for me, but it wasn’t without being solved on my own accord after a bit of trial and error. If you have played or enjoy playing puzzle based video games, the puzzles in The Last Campfire might be based on familiar scenarios, but the treatment you will find creative and fresh.
There is a good amount of interactivity throughout the platformer side, as well as the puzzle side, too. Finding ways to get to hard to reach places, lots of landscape to cover, plenty of differing terrain to navigate, and so on. In both the platformer and puzzle sides of the game you are never bored and the challenge is palatable but not overwhelming. The Last Campfire is a great game to unwind with after a long day at work or similar. Should you find yourself stumped on the next move, the ghost at any one of the campfires you are lighting along the way can offer clues as to your next move, should you so desire. Additionally, it is not required that you 100% a level or area in order to move on, you can always come back or finish things in “explore” mode, rather than “story” mode. Or you can backtrack in “story” mode as far as you like once you’ve entered new areas.
On the iPad, of which mine is a few models old, I found the game to run and respond flawlessly. It never crashed or lagged. Additionally, it looked and sounded beautiful every step of the way.
The story is both dark and light, happy and sad – in the truest form. There’s no heavy handed or convoluted aspects, it’s cute and sweet and real and touching. Some of those you seek to help as you progress on your own personal quest will want and accept your help, others will not and you will understand and appreciate that and why they don’t. If a game can be a spiritual representation of the human struggle and journey and purpose – The Last Campfire is it.
When I found myself at the end of the game watching the final sinematic graphics, the old heartstrings were getting a good pull and a little bit of a lump was forming in my throat.
Picking it up and putting it down and coming back to it in various frames of mind, it took me all of 10 hours and a some change to finish The Last Campfire. In honesty, any amount of time thereabouts is about as perfect as one could hope for this story. It’s addicting but also easy to put down and easy to come back to, and anything much longer or more drawn out would suck the true kernel of the story and gameplay entirely dry.
If you don’t fairly quickly – and entirely, by the end – find yourself engrossed in this world and attached to Ember and to the aim of this game, sorry to say, you’ve got no heart. It is a touching and creative game that most immediately makes me think of of the game Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, while being entirely separate from and unique to it.
As someone who likes to play video games but is absolutely not a gamer, I cannot recommend this game enough. If you have an Apple device, give the Apple Arcade trial a go and get into The Last Campfire. You might find some other games in that subscription you like, as well – if you do, recommend them in the comments! That said, The Last Campfire is also available on PC, Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. It goes for about $15 USD on any of those platforms and is worth every penny.