And then there was light

Developed by a small, 6-person team in Teruel, Spain, Candle explores the story-centered journey of Teku and his formidable quest rescue his master, his tribe’s Shaman. Crossing paths with giant, unfriendly toads, perilous cliffs, and acidic water — not to mention members of the Wakcha tribe, who are responsible for kidnapping the Shaman and destroying Teku’s village — Candle beautifully delivers a story of heroism, while reminding us that we need the gracious help of others to reach our goals; the journey of one individual is not a solitary one.

The story of Candle is told in a mixture of oral and hieroglyphic traditions. The narrator has a gentle, commanding voice — how your storyteller of a grandfather might sound with mesmerizing quality. He begins with a creation story: The Gods created and destroyed the world four times. Each time the tribes of the world were invaded by ambition and greed, and nearly destroyed themselves through war. Candle’s timeline begins after the fourth destruction of the world, when Teku’s ancestors were born. The accompanying visuals during this exposition are stunning and set players up for a beautiful experience.

Candle is also a subtle coming of age tale, one in which Teku is confronted with an alternate version of his tribe’s history and must sort out fact from fiction. This point in the game is when Teku’s story turns from an outward journey to an inward journey and is highly relatable across all age groups. The way this information is presented comes at a shock to both Teku and the player; the game’s exposition neglects these crucial details to understanding not only the world in which Candle is built, but also Teku’s tribe and those at war with them. By structuring the narrative in this way, it allows the player to feel the same inward emotional journey as Teku, something that was executed well.

A lot of the narrator’s dialogue is focused on delivering the player their next quest and deciphering the hieroglyphic speech bubbles of the other characters in the game. While some might find this redundant, I found having two explanations of the same event helpful — the narrator’s explanations were more eloquent and detailed than my ‘the dude got scared and ran away,’ and I sometimes misinterpreted what was said.

Any interactions you have with other characters, aside from the Wakchas, are entirely in hieroglyphs, while the character themselves chat away in a tribal language. Ultimately, Teku and the narrator are the only ones who can understand what they are saying, so hieroglyphics are there to make the interaction more entertaining for the player. You will also come across some instances of murals and cave paintings reminiscent of the Chauvet cave in France, but with bolder colors.

The candle you carry throughout the entire game is the central mechanic. Much of what you do revolves around keeping your candle lit or lighting other apparatuses to travel through portals, unlock rooms or objects, and ward off or distract enemies. There are also a variety of natural elements that will put your candle out and hinder your progress, but conveniently there are numerous wicks, fires, or other candles that you can light along your journey, just in case your own was snuffed out by rain or wind.

Your lit candle will only get you so far, however, as there are different types of puzzles, many of them codex-like, that you must complete to move on. Some of these are part of the game’s scenery, while others you’ll interact with via pop-out window. Using a candle as a centralized mechanic also allows it to function metaphorically as a little beacon of hope for Teku and the other characters whose lives were disrupted by the Wakchas.

There are many hidden areas to explore in Candle, adding a few surprises to a mostly linear adventure. These areas are well-hidden, blend into the scenery, and require you to look beyond the direct path to discover them. Because they are not easily noticeable, I either stumbled upon them on accident or spent a good amount of time getting lost.  You also have a generous amount of freedom to move back and forth across each level, taking different paths or portals from one location to the next. Once you leave a level, however, you cannot return. This game tests your ingenuity, and doesn’t always make the solution obvious.

The UI design was particularly fluid; for each interactive object, an icon (some times two) appeared over Teku’s head, signaling what options were available to the player. For objects that required the use of multiple items, you could cycle through your inventory via a small, pop-up over your head, and select the items you needed there, rather than opening a separate window. It’s a small detail, but one that saved seconds and made the gameplay feel slightly faster. While other platformer games might utilize the mouse wheel to scroll through items, Candle abandons use of the mouse.

Some of the more difficult parts of the game were the codex puzzles that required a specific combination to unlock the next area. There were a couple of these where it seemed the best method of solving them was by process of elimination. This was tedious and frustrating, and I found myself having to pause or quit the game, take a break, and come back later. These puzzles had a tendency to slow down gameplay progression, sometimes drastically. While I’m not opposed to these types of puzzles, I wish there was a hint or two on how to solve them, like there was for the other puzzles, to keep the pacing of the game more balanced.

What is most notable about Candle is not just the overall look of the graphics themselves, but also the method in which they were created. The entire game was drawn and painted by hand, and then animated into an ethereal journey — a painstaking process, but the artists really nailed it with their attention to detail and use of color. Traditional handmade visuals are Teku Studios’ forte. The watercolors, combined with the adventure story of a young boy and a compelling narrator, has all the qualities of visuals in a children’s book. It taps into that fantastical, dream-like view children often have of the world, and reminds us, as adults, what it was like to once see the world with innocent amazement.

Without of a doubt, Candle is one of the more beautiful games of its genre, standing out from the crowd. Teku’s Studios has made their mark with their distinctive style and a compelling story, to boot.