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The Last Campfire review: life-affirming

By Harry Slater. Posted

The Last Campfire is the sort of game you get lost in. Not a confused, stumbling, frustrated lost, but the sort of lost you experience staring at a beautiful landscape. The sort of lost that fills your heart with wonder and hope and sticks with you long after you’ve felt it. The best kind of lost.

The game is a 3D adventure that sees you trying to find your way out of a series of ethereal landscapes. You play a character called Ember, separated from the rest of your expedition, stuck on your own in a world full of oddities and dangers. It’s also filled with lost souls, known as Forlorns, stuck in place by their sadness, confusion, and hopelessness.
Along the way, you’ll help these trapped creatures, solving puzzles to aid them in their escape. Once you’ve saved all of the Forlorns in an area, you can move on to the next. The rescued creatures settle down around a camp-fire, the colourful hues of life returning to their once-gloomily-dark-blue forms.

There are other characters too, from an ancient fisherman to enormous slobbering pigs, mad bird kings, and huge, hungry frogs. Each of them has a story to tell, and each of them is looking for your help in one way or another. You’ll need to talk to them to move things along, but those conversations are an absolute joy.

The puzzles here are reasonably simple. You’ll move blocks around, sometimes using a magical horn, push switches, and try and snatch keys from wary crows. There’s a logic to everything you do, far removed from the slightly crazed object combining of classic adventure games.
That’s not to say they’re overly simple, and the little Eureka moments peppered through the experience are more than enough to make you feel smart. The world you’re exploring is big enough that you never feel trapped, but small enough that you never feel overwhelmed. As with most adventure games, there’s some backtracking, but it’s never more than a few screens.

During conversations, you often get a glimpse into what’s happening inside of Ember’s head.

Some of the ideas here really are brilliant. One particular gem involves a map that you need to find the parts of. As you shuffle it around, it changes the world around you, allowing you to reach new places and uncover new secrets. You’re never playing a puzzle for more than a handful of minutes, then it’s off to another new challenge that’s going to stretch slightly different parts of your brain.

There’s a gorgeous sparkle to the game as well. Every screenshot is like a little work of art, with little details bringing the scenes to life before your very eyes. There are clever environmental cues that make sure you remember the important information, and often after a tricky section you’ll find a shortcut back to where you started.

Ember manages to be charming and endearing even though you can’t see their face. Their movements are brilliant, little legs wiggling when they reach into chests, head bobbing when they walk. The controls are solid, too. You can choose between a floating joystick or touch controls, and both of them are more than up to the task.

Discovering a secret chest always puts a smile on your face, as well as giving you a glimpse into the story of a wanderer who came before you.

Even just wandering around the world of The Last Campfire is a simple, effective joy. There’s a deep sense of wonder to the experience, from the little beams of light breaking through the canopy of trees, to the snippets of story you discover in hidden chests.

You’ll want to push on to find out what happens next, to uncover the next chapter of the story and find the next intriguing idea the game throws into the mix. And sometimes you’ll just stop and stare at the world around you, drinking it all in, bathing in the warmth and the colours and the joyous glow.

The Last Campfire manages to strike an almost perfect balance between exploration and guidance, between knowing what you’re supposed to do and being told. Even the hints, which you can ask from the ghostly guardian of the camp-fire, are delivered in a way that asks you to figure them out for yourself.

Parts of the world need to be manipulated manually so that you can keep going, requiring you to swipe the screen to get them moving.

There’s a grand scope here without the airiness or meandering, and a fluency that’s second to none. It blends together concepts from a whole bunch of other genres into a seamless, elegant whole, always enticing you to play for just a little bit longer.

Yes, there are a few moments when things are a little too esoteric. Moments when the way is a little bit too obscured, or you need to try and remember too much to move forwards. But they’re few and far between, and often the solution is well within your reach if you take a slightly different tack.

The Last Campfire isn’t perfect, but it’s still a remarkable achievement. Its story of hope and loss is beautifully life-affirming, its puzzles are smart without ever being smug, and its charm is utterly undeniable. All in all, it’s a wonderful way to while away a chilly winter’s afternoon.

Highlight

One puzzle involves getting past a carnivorous plant. A sleeping pig and a sweet piece of fruit are your only tools, but the game gives you all the clues you need in little snippets of text to figure out what to do. It’s a lovely little microcosm of everything that makes The Last Campfire so entertaining.

verdict

A heart-warming and endearing puzzling adventure that will stay with you long after you’ve finished.

86%

Genre: Adventure | Format: iOS (tested) / Switch / PS4 / XBO | Developer: Hello Games | Publisher: Hello Games | Price: Free (Apple Arcade)/£11.99 (PS4/XBO)/£13.49 (Switch) | Release: Out now

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