I’m always quietly optimistic when a new release is published by Humble Games. Their most recent release for consoles, Wildfire, offers plenty to back this up. Developed by Sneaky Bastards, it’s clear the game has a wicked sense of humour right from the off.
The game was originally released on Steam earlier this year, and received much positive reaction. Wildfire is a 2D platformer which has pretty, retro-inspired visuals. Its soundtrack is suitably medieval, and rounds off the overall tone of the game very well indeed.
Wildfire is set in a time where most magic has died out, and you and your fellow villagers must fight to defend your home from the villainous Arch Duchess and her army. Early on you’re branded a witch, and you must use your recently acquired elemental powers to turn the tables on your opposing forces. Good job you took the time to investigate a mysterious meteor crash site moments earlier then.
After escaping your burning home, which is essentially the tutorial level, you’re forced to flee into the unknown to escape from your pursuers. The world map is pretty big, containing plenty of levels grouped by location. You’ll start in the forest, but move on to explore caves and mountains.
You can play solo or cooperatively from the start, and a second player can jump in at any time. Playing up to your new label as a witch, you will master sneaky rogue-like elements such as hiding in grass to remain undetected, carefully monitoring the noise you make and whistling at enemies to distract them. Sneaking through is the preferred method to combat. If you choose the more direct option, you can finish your enemies in some gruesome ways using your powers.
Each level has main and optional objectives to complete: you’ll earn spirit points for doing things such as remaining undetected and not killing anyone. These enable you to upgrade your Spirit Link skill chain. Think of these upgrades as character buffs, which develop your natural abilities. There are also speedrun targets for each level, if you’re into that sort of thing.
You can also equip meteor shards as you find them, which are scattered around the levels. These are special abilities of which you can have three active at any one time. Examples include enemies fleeing instead of detecting you and you bursting into flames when you die. They are much more random and often unrelated to your other powers, but can be extremely useful.
Your main source of power comes from learning to wield control over fire, earth and water. Through this you’ll be able to bend these elements to your will, doing things such as chucking bouncing fireballs around to burn away vegetation and scare off enemies, or quite simply light them up directly. Each will have their own upgrade chain, and you can earn points to spend by making offerings to elemental statues in each level. The type of point you gain depends on which ability you use to light the statue up.
The objectives are varied, and avoid a repetitive pattern often seen in such games. You’ll be doing all sorts, from eavesdropping on the Arch Duchess’ troops to escorting your friends to safety. It’s a refreshingly deep level of variation for a platforming game such as this. As I say, it’s usually the wiser tactic to outwit and confuse your enemies, as opposed to trying to brutally slaughter your way through them.
To help you sneak through, each enemy will show their awareness level in something similar to Metal Gear Solid. They will investigate first if they notice you, and if you are discovered, prepare to run and hide as you are pursued back through the level. Even hiding in grass won’t work when you are seen, as your enemies will hack away at it to prevent you from taking cover.
Some guards can be pickpocketed, and from them you will mostly acquire Kickstarter lockets. These have no practical use; instead they are nods to those who helped fund and create the game. It’s a nice touch of recognition.
Your objectives also add a puzzle element to the game, in how you go about achieving all of them in each level. This will require multiple playthroughs, bringing with it replayability. Completing the objectives will also help you upgrade your abilities much more quickly.
However, as you may have realised by now there are loads of skills to master, and you acquire them very quickly indeed. The levels are also short meaning the game’s pace can feel rushed. There are lots of good ideas, but they would benefit from a bit more space to breathe and embed themselves. Instead, I found myself forgetting about some of the skills available to me. To help, from the pause menu you can review your abilities, and upgrade them when on the world map.
In terms of your lives, you have three hearts, and can lose them to fall damage as well as taking hits from enemies. If you die, or become stuck, you can restart the level or resume from your last autosave or checkpoint. You will automatically heal at checkpoints too. This is quite generous, most likely because one single mistake can quite easily cost you the level. However, if you use a checkpoint or autosave load, you will squander the opportunity to earn the related spirit point. To survey what’s ahead and plan your next move, you can pan the camera by holding RB and scrolling with the left thumbstick.
You can also briefly play as your estranged Bobcat, seeking to be reunited with you whilst fending off the Arch Duchess’ troops. As the Bobcat you can climb walls, brutally savage your enemies, and growl to lure then in. It’s a great change of pace to the game, even if just for a short time. However, later you’ll discover that not all Bobcats are friendly…
Wildfire on Xbox is bursting with ideas, and there is a deceptively deep stealthy adventure on offer. Sometimes the pacing can feel off, but once you get your head around it, there’s plenty to enjoy here.