With decades of video games behind us, it’s safe to say there are very few truly original games being released. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as further iterations on familiar mechanics and ideas allow for improvements and finessing. Some games try to hide their influences through the smoke and mirrors of aesthetics or shiny new engines, while others just wear their origins on their sleeves. Blue Fire is very much in the latter camp, looking like a fusion of classic Zelda and twitch 3D platforming. I can confirm that what you see is what you get, but there is a whole lot more to Blue Fire too.
The quasi cel-shaded aesthetic of Blue Fire brings instant comparison to Zelda Windwaker and, whilst the dungeon environments don’t share the same sense of space and freedom as that game’s open world, it does clearly share the visual clarity and cartoony feel of Nintendo’s classic adventure. This is particularly welcome given the focus here on precision platforming and the clean graphics generally make navigating the levels a matter of skill rather than trial and error. The soundtrack lends the game a suitably eerie and atmospheric tone, as well as a more epic boss theme. Composer Ariel Contreras-Esquivel has done a superb job at mixing up some ethereal and haunting vocal lines with more traditionally paced gaming fare.
The early part of the game actually feels as if it is going to become a Soulslike as your origins and surroundings are initially left unexplained. Add in challenging lock-on combat and a Fire Essence healing ability that is a direct analogue for the good old Estus Flask and you get a very familiar feel. However, this influence swiftly becomes enveloped within one of the most enjoyable 3D platformers I’ve played in a long time. As you progress and gain more traversal abilities your tiny protagonist is able to zoom around the various environments with relative ease – although there are still many areas that force you to think about which path to take or throw in novel and difficult enemies.
The gradual unlocking of abilities and need to retrace your steps may suggest that this is a Metroidvania, but that is perhaps too strong a term for the overall design. This is more a case of a central hub that opens up different routes as you go, backtracking only really necessary for optional collectables or currency farming. These routes lead to Zelda-like dungeons that contain bosses and unlockable powers with some puzzle solving, but most of a focus on platforming.
You begin with a single jump and a dash that can give you extra range in the air or allow you to cross gaps on the floor. Combining these to make your way around soon becomes second nature with the jumping being pretty tight, helped by an easily directed camera that can give you a clear view of where you are jumping to. This is especially useful as some later areas will see you using skills like double jumps and wall running to make your way around corners or up large vertical environments.
All the necessary traversal abilities are unlocked through story events, but it is still worth seeking out hidden spirits that can prove invaluable. These range from doubling the ore you earn (basic currency) to adding extra damage to your attacks or greater distance to your jumps. Switching between alternative setups is a key part of getting past challenging areas, so it’s a shame that your active spirits can only be changed at the infrequent save statues. If you carefully explore you’ll find a way to gain more slots for these spirits though; one of many ways that the game encourages you to leave the beaten path.
So far so standard dungeon-based platformer – albeit taken to an unusually high level of polish. Environments include the usual sewer, ice, and fire levels with each offering different elemental issues. The ice level, for example, forces you to slow down and take out each enemy as they can easily freeze you in mid air and send you to your death. Death lifts another Dark Souls influence, as you respawn at the last save statue with all of your ore lost until you make you way back to the spot you died. This is usually fine, but as you often die from falling it is not uncommon for your ore to be lost altogether. Fortunately the areas in which you will probably find yourself dying the most are separate standalone levels called voids (which seems like a deliberate nod to Super Mario Sunshine).
Tracking down the various Void statues scattered through Blue Fire’s world lets you take on the difficult Void levels, the completion of which rewards you with an extra life heart. While these start out relatively simple later examples push your ability to chain together jumps and other traversal methods in ways that feel amazing when you pull them off. The fact that these are optional helps to prevent the game itself from being too frustrating whilst also offering up the chance for bragging rights for those who complete them.
At launch earlier this month, there were some stability issues with the game on PC, but I’m happy to report that the unfortunate crash bug that delayed this review has now been fixed.