The Last Campfire

The Last Campfire is a quiet, reflective, puzzle-filled journey through a bright and colorful world. While the vivid colors give it a cheerful vibe, the game deals with the topic of depression in a way I find meaningful and cathartic (while others admittedly say it’s too dark for them).

The game came out in August of 2020, and while I was initially interested in it, a few people told me it was kind of disappointing so I decided to hold off for a while. I also didn’t see a whole lot of positive press about The Last Campfire, which I thought only reinforced my preconceived notion that it was probably a so-so affair.

I finally played it in January of 2021, and I must say, whoever told me that this was kind of a mediocre puzzle game had this completely wrong. The Last Campfire is a poignant masterpiece with an incredible world and absolutely brilliant puzzles. If I’d have played it just one month sooner, I’d have nominated it as one of our 2020 Game of the Year contenders.

Now, I don’t think that would have changed the outcome — I still believe we chose the right game(s) for our final pick, but The Last Campfire deserved a mention on our nominee list for sure. In retrospect, its absence from that list feels like an oversight.

The Last Campfire

I can’t overstate how incredible The Last Campfire‘s visual design is. There’s a children’s-book-style simplicity to it, with everything looking sort-of-hand-painted. But there are so many great details, and so many things that are just plain cool to look at. I especially like the design of the Forest King, which reminds me just a little bit of the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.

But the thing that got me right away was the narrator, who speaks in a childlike tone and sort of stumbles over words occasionally. It’s not a narrative choice that a lot of similar games would implement, but it makes the whole thing feel genuine and honest rather than contrived. That’s important, because it wrestles with some pretty dark stuff. To have such an earnest, naïve narrator counterbalances that in a way that enhances the game’s emotional punch.

The basic premise of the game is that the playable character, Ember, explores an unfamiliar world in search of the forlorn — creatures who have lost hope completely to the point where they’ve sort of just fallen into a faded heap of sadness. You must free the flame of hope inside each one by completing a puzzle room. While you toil away at moving blocks, redirecting beams of light, and arranging magnetic snakes, you’ll hear some of the depressive thoughts of the forlorn you are helping. You’ll get a real sense for how these critters lost hope in the first place.

The concept is brilliantly executed, balancing exploratory environmental puzzles against the more contained puzzle rooms. It’s a little bit like taking The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and distilling it down to a less-than-ten-hour experience. Well, you don’t have the freedom of movement in The Last Campfire that you do in Breath of the Wild, so perhaps The Wind Waker is a better point of reference (if we’re sticking with Zelda games as comparisons).

Actually, The Wind Waker is an apt comparison, because The Last Campfire is a really dark story set against a bright and cheery backdrop. It also features a bunch of boat stuff.

The Last Campfire

If I had a time machine, I would go back and add The Last Campfire to Half-Glass Gaming’s 2020 Game of the Year nominees list. I mean, I could actually just go edit our list, but that feels kind of disingenuous after we already declared a winner. I would rather preserve the list exactly as it is and try to work on a more robust one for 2021.

All that said, if someone tells you to skip The Last Campfire, you should definitely be hesitant to trust that person’s taste in video games. The Last Campfire is small in scale (it took me roughly seven and a half hours to complete), but that’s the perfect size for this game. The emotional weight hits really hard, and I think that extending the game would only diminish that.

The Last Campfire

Simply put, The Last Campfire was one of the best video games of 2020, and we should have nominated it as a Game of the Year contender. We didn’t, and I feel really bad about that.

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