At first glance, Blue Fire might look like a combination of The Legend of Zelda and a Mario game from the Gamecube era. This observation actually fits pretty well, but once you start playing the game you realize it also takes inspiration from Dark Souls. The world and level design feel like a cartoony, low poly PS2/Gamecube version of Lordran. The areas double back on each other revealing shortcuts to various areas. There are even two bleak and dreary vistas showing fog-obscured mountain ranges with a silhouette of a mysterious structure in the distance underneath a copper-colored sunset sky, and to top it off there’s an NPC standing at the end of each broken bridge staring into the distance. The combat is by no means at the same intricate level as the Souls series because platforming is the main aspect of the gameplay; it takes a bit of time in game to truly shine, but overall it’s enjoyable. As you progress through the game you learn new abilities that drastically speed up the gameplay and let you access previously unreachable areas. There is a lot of backtracking involved in the game with some of the quests having you re-explore previous locations. Blue Fire takes inspiration from some of the most acclaimed video games ever made, but does it cast enough light to illuminate a path of its own?
Blue Fire takes place in the kingdom of Penumbra, a land in need of a hero to save it from the evil forces that have taken over. You are that hero: The Warrior of Light and Darkness. I don’t usually play games because of their stories, I like to focus on the action. Occasionally one will hook me and it will be worth my time to dig deep into the narrative and discover all the extra lore of the world. Blue Fire is not one of those games. The story feels somewhat generic, but that’s OK, it’s just there as a light supplement to the fun and engaging gameplay. There is one aspect of the narrative or world-building that I did enjoy. There are numerous NPC’s all over the kingdom and they almost all have multiple lines of dialogue that give the otherwise bland story a bit of flavor and humor. A lot of the NPC’s will give you quests and side quests that will have you zig-zagging back and forth throughout the kingdom; luckily all of the quests can be viewed in the pause menu. Navigating across the kingdom can be difficult at first as a lot of the areas inside each section look somewhat familiar. There are some defining features and landmarks to guide you as well as signs in front of some doors that designate where they will lead, but a map would have been more than helpful for this game. Even a simple one would have been nice.
Penumbra is not a gigantic kingdom, but when you first begin the game and haven’t yet unlocked any movement abilities it can seem like a very large place. The developers make use of all of the 3D space in their levels, going vertical just as much as horizontal. Stoneheart City is a good example of this and doesn’t look like a typical city. The houses and businesses are all over the place, most of them are way up high with no easy way to reach them so you have to parkour your way up to them. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the inn had zero patrons, I’d have no idea how a normal person would get there, but what makes for an odd and inconvenient architectural design makes for entertaining gameplay. The exploration is by far the most interesting and enjoyable aspect of Blue Fire. Although when I first started the game I was a little hesitant – the platforming felt kind of janky and not as precise as I would like. This quickly changes once you unlock some of the extra moves, like double jump and wall run. By the end of the game, the world feels much smaller as you are able to zoom around the levels with ease.
The exploration’s engagement is heightened by the large number of secrets scattered throughout the land. There are plenty of treasure chests hidden all over the place; however, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that the gems you find in most of them have no use besides being able to sell them for Ore (the main currency). There are some extra special chests that can only be found by performing the correct emote while standing on these special white squares that you occasionally find. Then the camera will show the location of the newly revealed chest, the designers use this feature a lot – having the camera show a newly opened door or pathway – so it’s a good idea to pay close attention when this happens so you’ll know where to go next. There are two dungeon-like areas that you must work your way through in the earlier parts of the game, I was surprised they didn’t include one or two more because I thought they were designed well. The first one, the Forest Shrine, has some serious Ocarina of Time vibes as it requires you to lower the water level in the temple multiple times to progress through.
The final and perhaps most interesting aspect of the exploration are the Void Puzzles spread across the kingdom. They are less puzzle and more platforming challenges. Each of the sixteen voids takes place in an abstract, magical-looking space. You must get from point a to point b without falling off. If you do fall off you start at the beginning of the course. They are ranked in difficulty from one star (the easiest ones) to five stars (the hardest). Once you reach the end that challenge is marked as complete, and more importantly you gain an extra heart (health point). There are also 30 void orbs to be collected in each challenge. I was close to writing off these challenges because I was getting extremely frustrated with some of the harder ones. This was before I unlocked all of the abilities. Once my character was fully decked out with every move and I had the most helpful spirits (these function like relics or charms improving your abilities or even granting you new ones) the challenge goals became much more attainable. Overall they provide a decent test of skill and some players probably won’t be able to complete them all which is unfortunate since the rewards for beating them make the game easier and will end up going to best players while the less skilled players who need them more will miss out on some of them.
The combat definitely takes a backseat to the platforming/exploration. It’s simple but serviceable. The character you play as uses twin swords to attack enemies, and you can lock onto individual enemies which is very helpful. There’s a blocking bubble move that will stun an enemy if timed correctly, letting you dish out extra damage. Eventually, you get a ranged attack but it seems kind of weak in comparison to the swords. The enemies are a mixed bag, there are a couple of different types in each area and the ground enemies aren’t too hard to fight. The flying enemies however can be a pain in the butt. They spam attacks very quickly and most are AOE attacks so you can easily get stun locked and die if you don’t take care of them fast enough. When you die you restart at the last Fire shrine you visited, and you lose all your basic ore currency. Just like in Dark Souls you can return to the spot you died and retrieve your lost ore. Blue Fire also borrows the rechargeable healing item, here they’re called fire essence, and they are restored once you save at a fire shrine. The fire shrines have some additional functions, such as being the only place at which you can equip your spirits – eventually you also gain the ability to warp between them.
There are vendors scattered all throughout the game world that sell all manner of items and upgrades. From spirits and new outfits to more powerful swords and quest items, as well as upgrading your number of spirit slots or fire essence uses – there’s even a collection of cute little statues that will teach/sell you new emotes. I was always excited to learn that the NPC I just found had something to sell. Once I realized that the collectible ore respawns every time you re-enter an area, I almost always had extra ore to spare for purchases.
Blue Fire features a low poly art style that’s not really stylized at all, it’s somewhat simple, but it works for the game. The game has a slightly dark and mysterious vibe to it, but then also some cutesy aspects like some of the character designs. Surprisingly these don’t clash, and I think the designers built an interesting world that has a fair bit of detail. I think the best looking assets are the ones that have more of a cel-shaded look and I wonder how the game would look if they fully went in that direction. The art style definitely adds to the charm of the game, even some of the enemies have a cute design to them, and you can obtain a collection of outfits to wear. Some outfits are just a basic color swap of your clock, whereas others are more unique like the bunny costume. The audio design also fits with the overall vibe of the game well. Most of the music has an ambient sound to it, which added to the atmosphere of each particular level. The audio design in the boss fights was probably my favorite, the music is loud and intense and the sound effects add to the tension. Overall I feel like the sound design did a decent job complementing the gameplay.
It took me just under fifteen hours to complete the game and get all the achievements. I was proud of myself for not looking up any hints or guides – with the exception of some tips on the hardest void challenges. There were a couple of points where I didn’t know where I was supposed to go next, but overall the world isn’t that big so it wasn’t that hard to eventually find my way. One issue that I did encounter while playing the game that I think is worth mentioning is how anytime my controller lost connection with the Xbox for more than a few seconds the game would kick me back to the main menu. I really don’t like when games don’t automatically pause when this happens, so getting kicked to the main menu was an even greater annoyance and somewhat unacceptable; hopefully, it can be fixed with a patch. The game does allow you to save the game at any point from the pause screen, so I just made sure to save after every significant event.
Blue Fire grew on me as I progressed through the game, it really opened up and became a joy to play once my moveset started to expand. Anyone craving a 3D action platformer that borrows from some of the best games ever made should give this a try. I think by not going overboard and sticking with a reasonably sized world that is filled with NPC’s and secrets the developers created something that shines and could burn for some time to come.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.