Emberwind PC, Mac
When a group of people come together and make an indie game, chances are good that the first decision made is using a 2D perspective for their dream project. Unsurprising, as most people with the passion and know-how to create an independent game hail from the NES/SNES era, recalling fond memories of jumping in two dimensions while collecting as many useless items as possible to raise their superfluous high score. Developer Timetrap seems particularly poised to make people recount the good old days with their latest release, Emberwind. But is their love letter to the 2D classics of yesteryear rank up as an A title, or just something to pass the time until the next Mario?
The story of Emberwind is simple enough; a heroic gnome named Kindle must protect the human city of Grendale from an evil wizard and his never-ending horde of goblins. With his trusty snow owl by his side, Kindle must rescue the villagers from the goblins, find the missing king, and defeat the goblin leader Candlefinger. The story is kept mercifully brief, and attempts to revel in its tongue-in-cheek nature, but the small bits of dialogue tend to be groan inducing, as many of the characters belch out tired one-liners.
But as is usually the case with most games, the real focus is the gameplay. Once again sticking to the basics, Emberwind’s gnarly gnome possesses your standard running, jumping, and attacking commands, with extra powers and abilities that can be unlocked once they are discovered during the course of the game. In addition to increasing the strength and speed of your cane, there are friendly spirits (called Brownies) that bestow Kindle with extra firepower, such as fireballs, bubbles, and chestnuts. And you’ll certainly need all the power-ups you can find, as the giggling goblins will quickly rise up in numbers, often flooding the screen and attacking our hero from both sides. Enemies will continue to respawn unless you destroy the nearby barrels that produce them, but the real objective is to save the trapped villagers, whose homes have been invaded by the goblins. Each stage has a certain number of homes that must be cleansed of enemies before you can move on, and to do so you must turn on the fireplace, as goblins instantly disintegrate from bright light.
In addition to running, jumping, and cane-whacking, Kindle will also earn a few extra abilities such as rolling into a Sonic-style spinball or a steel tent that can be used as a shield as well as propel players into the air like a rocket. Unfortunately, the way each of these movements control results in an overall floaty performance. While inputting each move is basic enough (double-tap to run, hold to jump high), the way each action contradicts each other can prove frustrating. The most noticeable example is running and jumping, where the former is fast and smooth while the latter is slow and unwieldy, with Kindle hanging in the air a bit too long than most 2D aficionados are used to. This isn’t to say that players can’t adjust to the imprecise physics, as it only takes a few minutes to get a feel for the controls, but in a game filled with bottomless cliffs and small ledges, the lack of perfectly precise controls really hurts an otherwise solid platformer.
Each level features multiple paths and layers, turning each stage into a maze while looking for all the goblin-infested houses. There are also numerous treasures and other collectibles to be unearthed, although the collected currency serves no purpose other than achieving a high score. The multi-floored levels also add an extra bit of frustration by featuring bottomless cliffs and lakes, which often can’t be avoided from a downward fall until it’s too late. Despite adequately rendered visuals, the levels also suffer from a repetitive design and are often obscured by darkness (although this is intentional). There are a couple of bonus stages that act as a 2D shooter while riding the snow owl, but these levels are too brief to be memorable. An occasional boss fight also tries to spice things up, acting as a sort of tug-of-war match where Kindle and Candlefinger deplete one another’s lifebar by exchanging blows.
Not much more can be said about Emberwind. Timetrap’s nod to classic 2D games is an admirable effort, but the repetitive levels and floaty controls do little to modernise a beloved but occasionally flawed genre. While there is some entertainment to be had, the short length and lack of originality make this gnome’s adventure more like a brief stroll than a winding journey.