Bonfire Peaks

The voxel art in Bonfire Peaks is immediately striking, with a tilt-shifted look that really makes it pop. It’s hard to deny that this is a gorgeous game. In fact, it was the art style, more than anything else, that drew me to Bonfire Peaks in the first place.

Unfortunately, the controls are just flat-out awful.

Let me break this down real quick. I played this on PS5, so I’ll be talking about the PS5 controller layout here.

The character moves on sort of a grid. If you press up, your character will walk north. If you press to the right, the character will move to the right. That all makes sense. Things start to get wonky when the character picks up a crate. Now, the controller layout basically shifts based on which direction the character is facing.

If the character is facing south and you press up, the character will walk backward. If you press left or right, he will spin in that direction. If he’s facing to the left, pressing right will make him move backward and pressing up or down will make him spin.

I can kind of see how this maybe would make sense in theory, but in practice, it results in directional controls that are frustratingly situational — your character controls differently based on whether he’s holding a crate and which direction he’s facing. It feels vaguely like the tank controls of a PSOne-era Resident Evil game, only with a D-pad that’s constantly rotating.

Bonfire Peaks - Rowboat

Now, this next part is just a nitpick, but you’ll use the X button to pick up crates. If there’s not a crate nearby, this button makes you sit instead. This means that sometimes you go to pick up a crate and then your character sits instead. I’m not sure why both of these actions are mapped to the same button when square and circle both do the same thing (it’s the reverse button — more on that later). It seems like this could have just gone with a dedicated sit button as circle, with the square button for reverse.

But here’s the good news: As far as the puzzles go, Bonfire Peaks is an impressively designed game. Puzzles continue to feel fresh, even late in the game, because the game keeps introducing new concepts. And some of these concepts will make you go, “Wait, you can do that?”

In some puzzles, you need to scorch crates so they’ll break apart when you walk on them, which gives you access to a particular location without blocking the exit. Some puzzles require you to dodge traps; others require you to build bridges across chasms. Sometimes you might be placing crates in a stream so they’ll float over to another location. In some instances, you need to impale one crate with an arrow and then impale another crate so they stick together and make a double-wide crate.

Whenever you feel like the game must be out of ideas by now, it suddenly pulls out yet another new trick that dazzles and thrills you.

As an example, I just have to gush for a moment about a puzzle called Rube Goldberg. As the name implies, this ends up being a complex puzzle that mostly just plays out once you set it in motion. The solution, then, is to set it all up properly. And once you actually do it, it’s extremely satisfying to watch. If you don’t mind the spoiler, here’s a video:

Incredible, right?

But in order to enjoy any of this, you need to possess enormous amounts of patience, and you must be a more forgiving person than I am. Even several hours in (and almost 100 puzzles deep), the controls feel strange and counterintuitive. As bewitching as the puzzles are, solutions are always held at arm’s length by the odd-duck directional controls.

To be fair, this awkwardness is mitigated somewhat by the fact that you have a button that reverses your last move, and if you tap it repeatedly (or hold it down), you can actually rewind all the way back to the beginning of the puzzle, one move at a time (you can also instantly restart the puzzle by pressing the triangle button). This is useful for when you’re deep into a puzzle and you accidentally drop a crate over the edge of a cliff, or you set the wrong thing on fire, or you stack crates in such a way that you can’t unstack them. Now you can back up just as far as you need to in order to keep solving the puzzle without having to redo the entire thing.

So when you screw something up, the game lets you undo it easily. Of course, this fact seems a bit less generous when you consider that it’s probably the game’s fault you screwed up in the first place. Those controls are really rough, man.

Bonfire Peaks

Honestly, I love so much about Bonfire Peaks. The puzzle design is some of the smartest I’ve seen in a really long time. The overall mood is wondrously chill, and the voxel artwork never loses its wow factor. But these controls are almost painful to use, which makes this hard to recommend. And I really want to recommend this. Bonfire Peaks is genuinely great in pretty much every other aspect. But any joy you experience from this delightful puzzle game will be wrestled from an unwieldy control scheme that never quite settles in. These controls are a beast that refuses to be tamed.

Note: I was given an early complementary review code for Bonfire Peaks.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x