Emberwind – An Indie Game Review of the Whimsical Fantasy Platformer

Emberwind – An Indie Game Review of the Whimsical Fantasy Platformer
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Game Name: Emberwind
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Publisher(s): Independent
Developer(s): TimeTrap Studios
Genre(s): Fantasy Platformer
Release Date: Tuesday 08 December 2009
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

Emberwind

From TimeTrap Games comes Emberwind, a surprisingly vast side-scrolling adventure. A throng of evil gremlins have invaded Grendale, and it is up to the stalwart, yet diminutive Kindle Elderwood to bring light to the night, thus driving the little buggers back underground. Did I mention he can ride on the back of giant white owl? Kindle (a gnome) may be short in stature, but he carries a big stick and an even bigger bag of tricks.

Emberwind indie game screenshot - Kindle riding a giant white owl

Emberwind is built on fantasy themes and races, and while the ideas are well-used and familiar, the game simply oozes with charm. Your travels will take you out of the woods and deep into the city of Grendale, where you will be forced to dispatch hundreds of foes. Enemy gremlin ships in the harbor start launching barrels into town, and each one can spout an unlimited amount of gremlins into the streets. Eventually, Grendale will fall prey to the onslaught if no one stands in opposition.

Darkness on the Edge of Town

The gremlins, fearing the light of day, have waited until the dead of night to begin their assault. The city streets are smoky and dreary, and the only illumination to be found is around the lantern being carried by Kindle. Watch your magic companion sprites to see when they light up: they can fly into the darkness to uncover hidden riches, unseen enemies, and even covered passages to caves filled with bonus loot. Using them to light a street lamp will activate a check point (handy, should you encounter an untimely demise. And you will). Enemy mortars will also cut through the shadows, and should you stumble upon a crate of fireworks, you’ll find the momentary burst of illumination to be a most effective way to scorch a swath through the horde of fiends. Find all the darkened homes in an area and light the hearth fire. This will give the villages a few places to safely hide until the assault can be thwarted. The musical score throughout the game is suitably epic, conjuring memories of both the Lord of the Rings and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies, with a little Warcraft 2 thrown in for good measure.

Emberwind indie game screenshot - bombs and explosions

Kindle’s attacks start out as a few basic leap and strike maneuvers, but as you uncover hidden tomes, you will develop a wide range of attacks and defensive moves. Learning to use your hat as a rocket (!!) will open up otherwise unreachable areas atop buildings, and even above the clouds. Chain enough attacks together, and you will be able to blast numerous enemies at once in a concentrated burst of magic energy.

The character designs are truly admirable and have a cartoonish, yet ethereal allure to them. Though they are charming, the range of characters is somewhat lacking in variety. The townsfolk in the game are all represented by the same two sprites: a male that resembles Howdy Doody, and a female that resembles a chain-smoking soccer mom. Speaking with most of the rescued villagers won’t amount to much if you’re looking for useful information, but talk with them anyway; their canned speeches will often provide a playful nod to a bevy of classic video games (“It’s a secret to everyone!”). Fortunately, there are many more types of gremlin enemies than there are cloned townsfolk, and you’ll be too busy whacking at them with your walking stick to complain about diversity or the lack thereof. The incessant, high-pitched cackling of the gremlins will ensure you never have mixed feelings about cracking their little craniums.

Special Brownies

Should you spy a Brownie on your travels, you can have him accompany you by hitting the CTRL button. Now your attacks will carry a magic charge, the nature of which depends on which Brownie is riding your shoulder. Destroying gremlin barrels will reveal pixie sticks, and picking one up will give your brownie a temporary magical supercharge. Some advice from me to you: If you should spot Bernie the Brownie, PICK HIM UP. His fire attacks will decimate a gremlin siege engine in one shot. Fire is awesome. Search the hidden nooks and crannies in a level to find a level’s fire stone. Each stone contains a fire spirit, and releasing three spirits will increase the damage that Kindle can dish out with his attacks.

Meet The New Boss…

Every few stages will open up a battle with the gremlin leader. Rather than being tasked with simply depleting his health points, you will engage in a tug-of-war of sorts. Take a point from him by striking him, and add it to your own health. This works both ways, of course, and until you find the right rhythm with which to do him in, you may find yourself in the middle of a lengthy skirmish. He’ll summon gremlin hordes, lob grenades, and rain fire down from the skies. You have a stick. Best of luck!

Roaming Gnome

I found the levels could get to be a little too large at times. While I enjoyed the non-linear construction of the city streets, I found the later levels would leave me leaping this way and that, desperately searching for the last unlit hearth fire. In some cases I tracked back and forth several times before I finally found all the unlit homes. If you have plans to find the bonus fire faerie in a level and you don’t find it on your first play through of a stage, you can revisit any stage afterwards. Although it will appear as though the level has reset, you can still seek out your prize, and exit the level using the Esc key menu.

Some mild game play hitches can momentarily derail the overall experience. Leaping up onto the slope of a roof will cause Kindle to continue to glide upwards until he has reached the top. Similarly, if you should catch a fatal blow while on a slope, Kindle will fall as if already on the ground, floating to the cobblestones below with a rigid back the whole way down. Nitpicky, perhaps, but it happened frequently enough to be noticeable. I also found that when engaged in a boss battle, I was crying out for a referee as strike after strike at the gremlin king’s head went unregistered.

But these frustrations are minor ones at best. In fact, one play through may not be enough for some players. Fire stones and bonus stages will keep players coming back, and each level will also track the best completion time, giving perfectionists their own personal benchmarks to surpass. It is loaded with lore, and lightly dusted with a few good inside jokes. It’s a great fantasy game that never takes itself too seriously. Emberwind is an endearing game, and one that just might keep you busy for a good, long while.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Emberwind
Developed by TimeTrap Studios

Available for Windows, Mac
iPhone version TBA

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