Candleman: The Complete Journey Review – Just a Flickering Flame (PS4)
Candleman: The Complete Journey sets players as a little candle trying to find safety by reaching the lighthouse in the distance. Over the course of your adventure, you’re taken through twelve chapters of 3D, puzzle-platforming. You’re a fairly under powered character. The environments are far grander than you are, and, as a candle, you can only burn for a total of ten seconds before dying. The game’s challenge lies primarily in navigating low-light environments within that ten-second constraint. However, the gameplay evolves from being a mere walk in the dark to becoming a satisfying series of thoughtful interactions with your environment. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.
Candleman’s gameplay is all based upon lighting your candle at strategic times using either the square, triangle, or R2 button as well as moving and jumping through the level. Especially in the earlier chapters, the levels are steeped in darkness; many times, you have to shine your light to be able to see where you’re going at all. It’s a gameplay loop that requires quick memorization on par with successfully walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. You don’t really celebrate when you succeed, but you’re a bit annoyed when you fail.
Throughout each level contains a set number of non-sentient candles you can light along the way. While the act of lighting these candles is a sort of collectible in the game, it has a practical function (adding some light to an otherwise dark environment), transforming it from an arbitrary task to a meaningful option for the player. Not to mention, without these candles, players are left with little to do as the road from point A to point B is a hollow, unfulfilling series of jumps.
Candleman gestures at puzzles but rarely has you engage in any, especially in the beginning of the game. Turning a wheel to stop the flames from burning you is hardly a headscratcher. The most demeaning puzzle involved unlocking a door by stepping on easily accessible switches with those same symbols. Over the entire course of Candleman, I only had one moment where I was unsure of what needed to be done. Otherwise, the game isn’t so much about puzzle solving as it is being patient and watching your step.
Fumbling in the Dark
The dev team designed Candleman with the goal of having a smooth difficulty curve, but the ease overstays its welcome. You’re either jumping from one box or petal to another or literally waiting for a path to clear so you can make your way to the next section. I felt like I was on autopilot while playing the first few chapters. My deaths always resulted from boredom that led to a reckless move.
I was enamored by the loud pitter patter of the candle running over the wooden crates within the ship and the charming crunch of the plants beneath his feet in later areas. However, the volume undermined the brilliance of the sound design, like when a good band cranks things up to the point of distortion. Footsteps were way too loud, and the sound of water, within the ship, sounded as if someone was trying to fix a broken toilet. This issue wasn’t present throughout the whole game, but, especially without much of a soundtrack, it stuck out negatively.
I wasn’t having fun walking through these levels, but I loved looking at them. Among my early favorites was Chapter 2’s “A Call From Afar,” featuring books stacked to the heavens with pages that would shimmer and unfold into branching paths. Likewise, each forest and meadow was filled with luminous plants. That, when paired with the death animations featuring Candleman abruptly collapsing, made for excellent visuals. It was pretty to look at, yet dull to play.
Much like this little candle, there were points in my journey where I had almost given up hope. But just when I thought I knew what Candleman: The Complete Journey had to offer, Chapter 7 shed light on what this game really had hidden in the wick.
Candleman’s gameplay was always evolving, with each chapter’s environment offering a new exploit. While the controls remained the same, lighting your candle could cause flowers to bloom, spikes to fall, petals to glide along the water, etc. These additions were nice but not enough to garner my interest.
But it was near the end of Chapter 7 when things became interesting. There were platforms that only appeared in the presence of light and faded a few seconds afterwards, forcing me to shuffle/light my way more thoughtfully. From here, things just kept ramping up, from having to base your movement on your reflection in a mirror to the introduction of enemy ghosts. When you reach what was presumed to be the climax of the game, i.e. getting to the lighthouse, you realize it’s actually the turning point. The game is just getting started.
At this point the light mechanic felt completely reinvented. Suddenly your actions directly interact with the environment, leading to success or death. For example, lighting your candle will make certain phantoms move towards you, but you need to position them in certain spots to advance. Before this point, it felt like you were simply going through the environment and avoiding obvious ends (ex. falling or walking into a spike).
In its final third, Candleman pulled me into the story, gameplay, and setting all at once. It was finally a full fledged, dynamic, puzzle-platformer rather than a simplistic maze. While the story’s end left some questions on the table, I thought the overall message was an important and beautiful one: sometimes what you think is your light/salvation is actually your darkness/demise. And sometimes, the light we seek has always been inside us. At first, playing Candleman will be an unsatisfying, slow-paced act of just going through the motions, but if you stick around, you’ll discover some magic by the end.
Candleman: The Complete Journey review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.