For the record, I’m a Kickstarter backer of this game, but to be perfectly honest, I never review any game and give it an automatic positive score whether I get code for free, buy a game outright, or write it up based on a (very tiny, in this case) pledge or reward as if it would make the game “better” if it turned out not to be. That’s a weird way some look at crowdfunding games (or any funded product, for that matter), especially when there’s NO guarantee the project will be fully funded or even produced. Besides, as it says on its site, Kickstarter is not a store. That said, I found that briefly chatting with someone at developer Mooneye before and I think after I pledged some years back sold me on the game’s concept and freed a loose buck from my wallet. Funded or not, I felt that what they were working on was a nifty idea.
With that said, reviewing Lost Ember on PS4 ($29.99), turned into a fun exercise for the brain as the game is mostly flawless in execution, but is in need of a few technical fixes I found that hamper the experience (a patch is in order to clean up a few things). It’s certainly quite lovely to look at once you get out of the intentionally dull-ish (but very nicely lit) cave the game starts out in. Then it takes cues from a few open-world titles where stepping outside shows off the game world to be a wide, wondrous place worth fully exploring. “Where do I go now?” will be the question many have (I’d skip any walkthroughs posted this early in the game’s release, frankly). But the game points you in the right directions by making where you need to go a map’s focal point, and then leaving it up to you to choose how to get there.
It’s how you choose to travel where this game shines (well, mostly). You can choose to be the game’s main character, a wolf of certain talents who controls as you’d think she should. Or, you can play as one of the many animals she can swap places with in her travels, from cute wombats of a few speeds, a few bird types, fish, and more. Some areas require a temporary swap and learning a slightly to very different control method, some animals have amusing traits to discover (you’ll see) and there are many secrets to uncover if your wandering leads to them. You’re able to change to a wolf at will, but pay attention to the floating red spirit orb that clues you into things as the adventure progresses. I tended to wander around one side of an area starting on the left side, go back and down to the right side, and finally up the middle when possible, but I had to break up that formula as the game got into later areas.
As noted, you can skip the extra exploration if you wish and go straight to that glowing point to get the story moving, but my counter would be why do this in a game you paid for that’s so open? Especially a game that’s begging to be explored for as long as you like because it looks so outstanding and inviting. Granted, this is the sort of game that yes, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea if they rush to the end and don’t gather everything. But let’s say most who are and will be buying this are the sort who love or like these types of games and this review is catering towards that audience with an eye towards getting the curious to peek over a shoulder and see what’s up. It gets more engaging as new elements are uncovered and more gorgeous as environments get more fanciful as you go. The game is pretty solid, (albeit linear if you zip through it) and doesn’t get your goat after a few hours (but you can play as goat when you find them).
There’s an overall story here that plays out via a number of cut scenes (don’t skip them if you want to know the whats and whys of the plot), good amounts of lore, and as mentioned, many items to find. Going off the beaten track as a smaller or larger creature usually ends up rewarding as the game doesn’t clue you into its hidden areas. But early on you figure out after finding a few hidden items, more will follow. There’s no combat or bloody content here and the game is quite family friendly (a few mildly upsetting story themes aside). Falling from a cliff or high place like some hills just take sends you to the same spot you fell from, so there no actual “dying” here other than when the story kicks in and it’s a past scenario important to the plot you’re watching.
It’s pretty much art in a playable form on some levels, but not without a few hitches. In one early map, I fell under the world and got stuck when switching back and had to restart from a checkpoint. But it happened again in the same location, so I figured it was because I was in a hollow log both times and the game was perhaps trying something in a tiny spot that wasn’t tested fully. I got a little motion sick and a throbby temporary headache in some areas with the Wombat and other small animals. But that’s thanks to my own curse of some 3D and polygon-based games being a chore to play where the angle is too close to the ground, too tight and slightly tilted up (sort of like the old game Tunnel B1 on the PS1 or some parts of the Hobbit sequences in The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest on PS3). In those cases, I needed to stop playing and rest my eyes and brain for a bit, but I wonder if an FOV slider in this game would help matters in case anyone else is in my odd boat. Your experience may vary, but I’m posting mine in case it’s a thing others are affected by.
Visually and aurally, this is all pure beauty with a affecting soundtrack to match. I was stopping to take in each new area because if you’re traveling about (as a wolf or other creature), you do need to stop and look at everything that spreads out around you. There’s has so much here that’s done well that fans of this type of game will be pleased to no end. Little things and big ones mean a lot in Lost Ember, so if you’re careful in observing, the wealth of detail here is often something else (watch certain smaller animals react to the wolf by scampering off, for example. She may be harmless, but they don’t see her that way). You may see a touch of immersion-breaking clipping here and there, but the warm and inviting nature of the exploration will keep you hooked in every time you fire up the game.
I’ll stop here and get a score up, as I’ve been playing this most of the day between this and another review I need to complete. Mooneye has a real treat here for fans of this type of game and families who want something the young ones can play if they want something a bit different. It may be a patch or two away from total greatness, but Lost Ember is a trip worth taking in what’s here interests you.
Score: B (80%)
-Review code provided by the publisher