The Last Campfire is the latest title from indie studio Hello Games, and it puts players into the shoes of Ember, a lost little sprite of some kind navigating a strange and mysterious world. They seek the titular Last Campfire, where they will move on to something else – exactly what, it’s not clear. Each area you explore is dotted with the Forlorn – beings like you who turned to stone when they gave up hope. Helping them sends Ember into a miniature landscape where they must solve a short puzzle in order to help the Forlorn come back to themselves.
The gameplay of The Last Campfire is largely fine. It deals with small puzzles, none of which are too difficult to figure out and often focus on positioning some object in the space in a specific way. This becomes very apparent once you acquire the lanthorn, an object that allows players to manipulate certain objects in the environment to create new paths or remove obstacles.
The systems of The Last Campfire are interesting, but they never really combine in any interesting ways. The first puzzle where you need to protect a flame from getting blown out is not that much more complex than the last puzzle where you do that again. Working out the solutions is still a satisfying task, but the game’s systems largely stand on their own.
An indie game about dealing with difficult emotions through puzzles! Now where have I seen that before? All jokes aside, The Last Campfire is distinct from other similar games such as Gris, Rime, and Journey. Its gameplay and story are different from those titles, and it has its own art style that sets it apart.
However, there isn’t really anything new in this game. Spatial reasoning puzzles make up the bulk of its gameplay, which is nothing that hasn’t been done before, and the various other systems like fire and wind management aren’t very remarkable either. It’s not derivative by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t bring any fresh ideas to the table, either.
The Last Campfire is a mechanically simple game – and that works very well for it when it comes to accessibility. Players are limited to three total actions – move, interact, and play the lanthorn. This dramatically reduces the learning curve compared to other games which have a number of complicated systems using a myriad of buttons to control things. The Last Campfire is an exercise in control-minimalism, which makes it very easy to understand how to play without any real tutorials.
The absence of certain other accessibility features is notable, though. There is no colorblind mode and no option to remap the controls (at least on the Switch, where I played the game). There is no way to increase the text size of the narrative popups, either. The Last Campfire still winds up being pretty accessible due to its simple controls, but could improve in some areas.
One of The Last Campfire’s best selling points is its artistic style – the game is just nice to look at, from the gloomy caverns to the swampy marshes. The characters’ designs all really stand out as unique and memorable, ensuring that you won’t soon forget the massive pig that demanded treats, or the lonely fisherman waiting for a bite.
It’s not the most graphically demanding game, to be sure, but it still looks beautiful. Everything about the world, no matter how strange and disparate it may seem, works together to achieve a cohesive visual philosophy. Its takes some talent to make a boat building robot, a massive bird creature, and a tortoise chef all fit into one aesthetic, but this game succeeds.
The story of The Last Campfire is its other major draw. It’s a solid tale about the challenges of moving past difficulties in life. The nature of these difficulties are left vague for most characters, with only brief hints given to the struggles they face, letting the story feel relevant to any number of personal challenges. The message seems to be about helping people, and how that can help you on your own journey as well given that Ember must bring back a certain number of Forlorn in each area to progress.
One element that I personally didn’t care for was the narrator. The actual narration was fine, and the voice was never obtrusive or unpleasant, but it felt largely unnecessary to have someone speaking the dialogue and descriptions that appeared onscreen. This game felt like it could easily have followed in the footsteps of those I mentioned earlier (Gris, Rime, Journey) and done away with narration – and indeed, much of the dialogue. This may be my own preferences, but the narrator just made the voices of all the characters feel too similar and didn’t seem to contribute to the story enough to warrant their inclusion.
The Last Campfire is a pleasant and relaxing game, albeit not a very challenging one. It’s a nice few hours and can be very cathartic if you’re taking a break from more intense games. While it’s not the best game ever made (really, what game is?), it’s certainly worth the cost and makes for an enjoyable experience.
Final Tally: 16/25