Emberwind is a charming fantasy platformer from indie developer TimeTrap. You play as gnome watchman Kindle and are accompanied by your snowy owl Hedwig. I mean Wick. King Gyro rules over typically safe streets, but now an evil army has hit town. Bummer. A Fire Gnome, Kindle has the duty of lighting the lamps of Grendale and thus delivering it from the invading gremlins and the evil CandleFinger while Wick provides taxi service. Other than that, Emberwind is light on lore and heavy on combat. Of course, how many of us really cared about why we were rescuing Peach, or how the gal got herself into such a predicament anyway? We were in it for the mushroom devouring, Koopa stomping glory, and Emberwind largely forgoes the pretense.
There is a lot of back story on the website that isn’t realized in game. As a result, the site makes for nice supplementary reading but also leaves you feeling a little cheated. This operating on a need-to-know basis goes to some extremes in Emberwind. There are some mighty significant game elements that are overlooked that are tied to the game’s over-arching story, like that the lampposts you’re igniting are actually checkpoints. It wasn’t until I backtracked and re-lit a previously aflame one then moved forward to the next that I had an Edison moment. Emberwind just doesn’t fuss over the details, forgoing nuance in favor of buckets of enemies.
As a platformer Emberwind has a hard time escaping feeling derivative. Most recently, it will have gamers thinking of Braid, with the airy jumping of LittleBigPlanet and the occasional Sonic moment. The classic genre is done well, and with a glut of checkpoints relies less on platforming skills and more on the fun of exploring the level, killing every nasty in town, and of course getting to all those hard to reach places.
Controls are simple with lots of special moves introduced early on. After a breezy level or two you’re in full Gremlin attack mode (so seriously, pay attention to all those moves). Enemies are distinct with attacks styles easily identified by what they carry. There are Soup Troops that favor a ladle, Bandits with explosives and Scouts sporting tridents, to name a few. Combat with standard enemies brings up their health in the lower right, which can be beaten away at with your gnome stick. Boss fights, however, use more of a pendulum principle. Landing a hit swings tide in your favor, while getting hit does the opposite. As a reward, completing boss battles unlocks bonus stages that have you playing as Wick against the cloud king’s army.
From start to finish you get a few hours of combat-heavy fun, which is centered around your space bar: hitting it once is a basic attack, while tapping repeatedly prompts a fast combo, tap it while running and you’re Sonic powering through enemies. All that spacebar tapping can get a bit mashy-sounding, which belies the variety of moves happening onscreen. As you progress and defeat more enemies Kindle’s health will increase, and he can find magical runes floating around Grendale for additional attacks giving this platformer a little shot of RPG.
In addition to Kindle’s staff attacks there are some magical attacks. Scattered throughout Grendale are sprites that you can pick up that offer special abilities. You can only hold onto one sprite at a time, and they are fun to try out for quirky combat advantages (like the sprite that puts Gremlins to sleep). Of course, it took me a little bit to figure out that was what was going on with the sprites – it was the Gremlins dozing off mid-fight that clued me in to something funny going on.
This 2D platformer is cartoon pretty and intensely cute. Kindle eats up snacks and collects coins like he’s halfway to snuggly plushie. The music is good, with each area having its own theme, thought it is the music and not the lackluster effects that set the tone. Side-scroller or not, there is still a bit of exploring to do. While most citizen’s homes are along the primary path there are additional places to discover and what I love most about the level design is that after the first two you can really tackle a level any way you want. There’s no suggested path to follow or deviate from, it’s just a level for you to explore and complete objectives however you see fit.
Checkpoints are abundant, and they preserve all progress through a level so if you do hit a sticky point you don’t have to worry about going back to clear out an area you already completed. This means that no section is really frustrating, but that doesn’t make up for some weird moments. Take the water conundrum: Kindle seems to have an endless supply of oxygen for particular underwater segments, but if he encounters water elsewhere it causes death. Then, as a result of the open level design – which I still love – there are some very confusing moments that could do with a little “hint” bubble.
If you want a fun platformer, Emberwind is an excellent option and a treat for the $10 price. With open levels, abundant combat and a real foothold on “charming” it’s too bad that so much lore was left on the website and out of the game. Still, all that Gremlin-thwacking and fire-lighting means you’ll have a good time while in Grendale. Add that to the tour book – but maybe a warning about the evil sorcerer problem?
Review copy provided by publisher.