It's no secret that there are a lot of Metroidvania platformers in the indie space. Browse Steam for even a few minutes and you'll see no shortage of games like this. In such a crowded space, it's not always easy to stand apart and be noticed, so a developer needs a real spark to draw attention.
Into this crowded scene comes Candle Knight, a cryptic little title fronted by a protagonist whose head is literally on fire. Candle Knight brings some splendid visuals and novel mechanics to the table, but will that be enough to win out in a year full of similar games?
There's not much story to inaugurate Candle Knight. What you know is this: Two worlds that were previously kept apart have been merged, leading to a crisis. In the midst of this, a strange little candle-headed soldier awakens in a mysterious castle where the merging has taken place. His goal is to sever the link between the worlds and make things right again, but everything else - including why any of this is happening or who/what he is - remains to be seen.
Candle Knight has more of a plot than this, but you'll have to pick it up as you explore the castle. The other denizens - including bosses and the ambiguously sinister Merchant who sells you gear - will have plenty to say, but even then you'll be filling in some gaps yourself. You're in the dark to start, and it's up to you to illuminate what's going on - appropriate for a game in which the protagonist has a lit candle for a head.
Candle Knight is a 2.5D Metroidvania, with all of the design elements and quirks that go along with that genre. As with many latter-day games of this type, Candle Knight opts to put more focus on combat, with a system that is simple yet very technical.
The key combat mechanic is the "ignition" system. As the protagonist lands hits on enemies, his flame burns brighter, increasing movement speed and damage dealt, but also damage received. These are not subtle modifiers - at full brightness, the protagonist takes triple damage, turning the normally tanky knight into glass. Fortunately, you have a shield that stops attacks while also cooling you down. Of course, if you're more of a risk taker, you can forego that and use your evasive options instead, staying in glass cannon form to keep fights short.
All of this makes combat pretty hard, at least if you try to fight as you would in similar games. A little prudence is well-advised, especially against bosses.
Candle Knight also features several puzzles, many of which are built into the castle's numerous paintings. At certain times, the protagonist can step into one of those paintings and explore a little world on the other side. Successfully maneuvering through one of those paintings (being careful to avoid areas where the work has been damaged) will unlock a means of fast travel, usually along with an item or some gold.
None of this is to say that Candle Knight skimps on the platforming, and in fact, there are some very technical challenges here as well. Candle Knight also plays with the 2.5D view at times, shifting perspective to change up the gameplay. However, most of the game features the kinds of challenges you'd expect from a game like this, just with enemies that are a lot harder to fight.
Candle Knight is a very nice-looking game. In particular, a lot of work has been put into the lighting effects - again, something you'd expect from a game with a protagonist whose head is ablaze. And yes, your little knight does illuminate the space around him, with the effects changing subtly based on his ignition level. Good graphics can be a trap in a game like this, and Candle Knight does at times encounter some problems common to 2.5D games, with overly busy backgrounds and intrusive foreground elements showing up in some areas.
Overall, Candle Knight does a few things to shake up the Metroidvania formula, but it's mostly what you'd expect. If you're into that subgenre, this game is worth a shot.
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