Awakening in the last bastion of the fire guards, you must unleash your abilities to fight back the shadows, save the old gods and free the world of Penumbra from the grip of darkness in a 3D platforming adventure: Blue Fire.
Escaping from what resembles an old laboratory, Blue Fire — from Robi Studios and published by Graffiti Games — kicks off by walking players through it’s basic controls. Guiding the player with a number of short note-based tutorials which reveal the game’s mechanics and then immediately presents opportunities to put them to use. At this point it’s all very straight forward; jump around, swing your sword and click to lock onto enemies and objects. Even then, the tutorials and mechanics keep coming, a shield and a dash are yours for the taking and again it’s all simple until suddenly it’s not. Precision or Punishment is the best way to describe Blue Fire.
It’s as if The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls shacked up and decided to create something with the exploration, wonder and scale of Hyrule but with the enemy difficulty and punishment factor of Lordran and there’s also a healthy amount of verticality thrown in for good measure. Initially with four or five heart containers at your disposal you would think you could take a few hits, Blue Fire has other ideas however and one hit can not only reduce your health by a heart or two; but should you be lucky enough to be knocked into either the abyss or some other unpleasant looking sewer water, you’ll likely be outright killed. It’s also not as simple as dropping back to the next checkpoint to have another bash, its game over. You can reload your last save but you are going to have to get comfortable with repeating some sections or Blue Fire will turn you off very quickly.
You shouldn’t let that put you off though as although death is somewhat inevitable the first time through; the more you can concentrate on and become comfortable with the linking of the plethora of abilities that Blue Fire throws at you; the more rewarding the game becomes and the easier it is to eventually progress. When I say concentrate I actually mean understand the ability in question. Shields can block but effective use of the skill isn’t to just hold the button and wait for the swing; instead it’s knowing you only need the shield at the point of contact, effectively delivering a parry with a greater window for response or evasion rather than trying to tank hits.
Dashing (again) is not just about hitting dash for more distance, precision is key; as letting go of the button at any point instantly stops your forward momentum and without any stick direction will drop you straight down. Given how punishing falling from a ledge into the darkness is and how it decimates your health; it’s something you need to realise quickly or feel the pain of continually missing your landing. Once it clicks however, it’s like water as multiple abilities string together seamlessly as you bounce from platform to pipe and wall to wall without any hesitation.
Blue Fire has several hub areas which span off into a number of temples reminiscent of games like Zelda where upgrades, bosses and trials can be found although initially you may find that discovering the entrance is all you can achieve as you won’t have the abilities to progress. Sometimes you’ll also need to gain quests for tasks from the various NPCs located throughout the hub areas to access side areas. Given the obvious inspirations, there’s a massive amount of platforming built into Blue Fire which hides switches, treasures and alternative routes to your adventure that opens up multiple strategies for progressing quests. If you can stand on it you can utilise it in a lot of instances but that’s not always enough and you should be expecting to return to an area with newer abilities to find new secrets and openings.
Hidden in these areas are also a number of “Void Entrances”, these transport you to an isolated level instance where you need to use your skills and ability to collect void essence, complete the challenge to reap a health upgrade as your reward so it’s well worth hunting down every single one to give you more margin for error. These voids increase in complexity and you are expected to have specific abilities to complete each one but you can try them as many times as you like and return later with even more abilities which can sometimes make the challenge easier.
As you progress it’s also possible to hunt, find, purchase and collect a number of wayward spirits. These can be equipped to add specific buffs or capabilities to your character. One might remove fall damage, another will double collected light emblems (which are used as currency in Penumbra) or maybe increase attack power. Extremely similar in use to the charms from indie legend Hollow Knight the harder to find spirits offer better benefits so hunting them down is worth the time for anyone striving for 100% completion.
Blue Fire could be really frustrating if the controls were clunky — which thankfully they are not — and the challenge gets progressively more engaging and rewarding as you progress. When you succeed you feel great about how it all hangs together, when you fail it’s not that bad given you realise quickly that you were either just too slow or pressed the wrong button. It’s also great to see a solid, precise, 3d platformer as it seemed like the golden days for the genre were long gone but it represents the trifecta — great controls, great world design and great combat.