Why do something new, when you can do it well? Blue Fire jumps from shoulder to shoulder of various gaming giants, but does it so slickly and acrobatically that the lack of innovation ends up not mattering.
Let’s play a bit of gaming dot-to-dot. Blue Fire initially feels like it’s several 3D Legend of Zelda dungeons knitted together to form a game world. It rides the same lines of being cutesy and characterful, but also subterranean and threatening. You can lock-on to enemies with the shoulder buttons, and you’re hacking and dodging like a be-masked Link, all with the camera slightly above and behind you, as if carried by a floating Navi.
But while combat is clearly an element of Blue Fire, it’s not the focus. The sprawling dungeons are a series of platforms tantalisingly out of reach, waiting for you to unlock new abilities, or to pluck up the courage to parkour over various stepping stones and ledges to get there. It’s an open world where you are funnelled and locked off initially, but blossoms out towards the end of the game, similar to a Metroidvania. It feels most like the reboot of Prince of Persia, if you were cursed to live in a chibi body, or Hollow Knight reimagined as a 3D world.
But then you die, and other gaming influences come into view. In the opening stages of the game, death will kick you to the very start, and you’ll have to navigate the same areas, jumps and enemies to get back to your ghostly corpse and retrieve your tokens and drops. This is a Souls-like game, and it forces you to become adept rather than lean on checkpoints or lives. You can purchase new checkpoints, but they share a currency with character upgrades, so you’re making tough decisions about whether to buy a safety net or a kickass new ability.
There are voids to explore, which play out like A Hat in Time’s rifts: distinct levels that are dedicated to skills like wall-running or mid-air rushes. They give tokens for upgrades and a health boost at the end, and they’re some of Blue Fire’s best moments. Being wimps, we were glad that death meant a restart of the void, rather than a boot back to the start of the game, and they were both filthily challenging but achievable at the same time, with a payoff that was huge.
The last gaming comparison isn’t one we expected. By the end, when we were laden with ridiculously overblown and overpowered upgrades called ‘spirits’, the world wasn’t a challenge to us anymore. We could zip across areas that would have taken fifteen minutes to explore before. Blue Fire started to feel like Crackdown, as we leapt across arenas in a single bound, and remembered how much of a trudge they were on day one.
Of all of those influences, the most resonant is Hollow Knight. Blue Fire is tonally similar, taking a game genre that’s traditionally family-friendly and then pouring tar all over it. Blue Fire is a lonely, brutal game, scattered with corpses and full of spiky shadows that want to disembowel you. While Hollow Knight was 2D, the upgrade systems, spiky difficulty, complex bosses and platforming make Blue Fire and Hollow Knight siblings.
Our enjoyment graph of Blue Fire would have been interesting. Our first hour was a bit of a mess. Playing on Xbox Series X|S, weird graphical glitches (ironically looking like blue fire, creeping up from the bottom of the screen) kept flickering across the screen, and the game would blackout in platforming sections. Diving into the Discord community, this was a widespread and known issue, so we had to retreat back to our old Xbox One to get around them. If you have a Series X|S, these issues were always present for us, but would randomly lessen or get worse on reboot. Fiddling with graphical settings can alleviate it, but we got fed up and moved to the One. You may want to wait for an incoming fix before playing Blue Fire.
Blue Fire was also a little unfriendly in the opening sections. There wasn’t much of a gap in ability between us and our enemies, as a shield is on a short stamina bar, and getting hit sent us careening around like we were Wile E. Coyote on a rocket. Dying sent us to the start and enemies respawned, so we were facing the same challenges with the same tools, so our only option was getting good. So much of the world was unreachable without abilities, and – while everything looks and feels great – there was nothing that we would have called satisfying. We came in cold, too, without the important knowledge that Blue Fire was a Souls-like, which was offputting.
But after some upgrades, health boosts from the voids, Blue Fire became a joy. The mid-section is when Blue Fire is at its peak. Moving into the sewers and forest sections with our first substantial upgrades, Blue Fire gets everything right. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a platforming mishap is down to you, with only ledge-grabbing being mildly inconsistent. Combat is slick and intuitive, as you begin to bring the battles into the air, juggling and rushing through enemies. And exploring the crannies of Blue Fire’s world is the best of the bunch, as they are crammed with secrets, emotes, voids and more.
It’s in the latter sections that Blue Fire stumbles. Rather than offer new areas or biomes, the final third of the game requires you to revisit the opening sections of the game. It’s a shame mostly because we’d grown accustomed to a boss meaning a whole new level and biome. There was a real grandeur to wandering into an area, conquering it and then defeating its boss, and the prospect of five bosses – and five distinct terrains – was exciting. To have the tables turn and three bosses suddenly and rapidly being offered and then defeated was a disappointment.
But for nine hours, we were in the zone. Blue Fire, once you’ve reached the point where your skills (whether through upgrades or your own abilities) begin to outstep the challenges on offer, can make you feel like a colossus of platforming. You are pinwheeling through environments, taking down enemies in a blizzard of dodges and blades. At it’s best, it is a lump of gaming gold.
Blue Fire is a magpie with impeccable taste. It’s taken some of the best bits from some fantastic games, and it’s hard to to play it without being swept back to the times of playing Hollow Knight, Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Souls-like games. But while it may be familiar, it has panache on tap, and all of these platforming, combat and Metroidvania elements come together to form something slick and enjoyable. It doesn’t quite maintain the momentum until the end, and there are significant visual bugs on the Series X|S, but Blue Fire burns brightly for the first two-thirds of its run.
You can buy Blue Fire for £16.74 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It should be noted that substantial graphical issues are present when playing on Series X|S, so it may be worth waiting for a fix before embarking on Blue Fire.