Embers of Mirrim (Switch) Review – Two Worlds Collide
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Creative Bytes
Publisher: Creative Bytes
Release: 7th December 2017 (Switch)
Making a good jump´n run nowadays is hard, be it because of the sheer market oversaturation or amazing genre masterpieces of recent time. Nonetheless, indie studio Creative Bytes tried themselves on a “premium” title with Embers of Mirrim. Originally released in May it now comes to the Switch like many other. Unfortunately, not only are two worlds colliding in its gameplay but also in its problems.
Yet before talking about these two worlds, Embers of Mirrim´s plot should definitely be thematized. Told solely through images instead of words, it attempts to tell the story of two “animals”, both the last survivors of their species. Since ages those two species fought against each other but now, endangered by a great calamity, they have to work together or die.
Naturally, the concept of two contrary parties forced to cooperate isn´t new, already used in dozens of games, the combination with speechless story-telling and an interesting visual design could´ve given it a unique spin. Unfortunately, everything not only happens exactly as anyone would imagine it but doesn´t profit from any of the design choices. Practically Embers of Mirrim tells a very generic journey of uncharacterized, bland creatures, there really are no surprises.
Due to the lack of dialogue, the events and emotional bonding get even more problematic, since the mediocre animations and often uninspired cutscenes can´t convey a message powerful enough to carry the game. Honestly, I really dig the monster design, the colour palette and a lot of other things about its visuals but the rest is simply cliché-y and predictable.
So let´s focus on its biggest problem: The base jump´n run gameplay isn´t fun. Unlike games like Mario, Embers of Mirrim doesn´t feature a responsive reaction system, where the character executes every action without delay. Instead, Mirrim, the main character(s) of the game, seems to delay commands when he stops running or turns around.
Additionally, jumps themselves don´t feel very precise, suffering from a weird, indescribable behaviour, where they tend to react very responsive but ultimately always end up in the same curve. It´s hard to describe but they seem to always follow an invisible curve, rather than line. As a result, the gameplay may not necessarily bad but because of the animation priority between running and dash-like jumping behaviour, it would almost be perfect for fast-paced games, where precision is not as important as in Mario for example.
Unfortunately, Creative Bytes built their levels in almost the complete opposite way. The first level is a horrible mix of having to jump precisely on little platforms, often with time limitations. A lot of passages follow this pattern of featuring little platforms, where Mirrim has to exactly land on, forcing you to stop regularly, be reminded of the horrible animation priority and then trying to master the unprecise jumps.
Occasionally, Embers of Mirrim features passages where it´s simply necessary to run and jump over little obstacles on the way, which feels great with the gameplay but most of the time, the level design doesn´t harmonize with the behaviour of Mirrim. Pure jump´n run passages just don´t feel good but mostly annoy the player because of that.
On the other hand, and here´s where the true contradiction of Embers of Mirrim is born, the main feature of being able to split into two so-called Embers and do all kinds of things is great. Those Embers are essentially two little light bulbs, both symbolizing one of the rivalling species, which are used to activate mechanisms or fly through various passages without getting Mirrim harmed.
There´s also a time limit for being an Ember, indicated by the two big light circles around them, slowly shrinking as we move with them. In order to actually make it over big gaps, for example, Embers of Mirrim has two different objects. Typical “time extender balls” resetting the time before having to return to Mirrim´s normal form when we fly over them and special “walls” only accessible for the Ember in the right colour, actively disabling the time limit.
Both are used to lead the player down a certain path, that often requires controlling both at the same time. While it starts out mildly with levels, simply consisting of the same path for both Embers, the game soon starts to get harder and harder. Since it´s necessary to pay attention to both, their time limits and the often moving level itself, seemingly easy obstacles are made hard solely by contradicting paths. In combination with Ember sensitive level objects, like mushrooms which only expand to bridged when touched by a only one of the coloured Embers, those passages are by far the hardest of the game and the very core.
Especially later on, Embers of Mirrim still manages to implement enough new ideas and mechanics to keep this idea fresh, while maintaining a steady but challenging difficulty. Even though I´m not a fan of some of the optional to completeable figures, because they´re not unique nor interesting, gliding over spikes, splitting into two Embers and then trigger a mushroom to create a bridge to land on is a lot of fun.
The heavy reliance of Embers of Mirrim on this particular mechanic is also shown in the few boss fights. Personally, I´m the opinion every boss should be something special in gameplay, offering either athe new take on an already existing thing or bring something completely new to the table.
Here, bosses are basically textured walls or platforms, only serving as a stricter, less forgiving time limitation. They´re so incredibly boring from a design perspective, that even the mediocre Deer God did a better job. Every one of them could be replaced by a moving stone for example, as seen in many other parts of the game, and there wouldn´t be a difference in most cases.
A huge missed chance for a game bursting with an interesting design. As previously said, I´m a huge fan of Embers of Mirrim´s creature design, being a perfect mix of mature, dark elements mixed with cuteness. Especially the two main species and Mirrim actually really impressed me in their detail. When it comes to the graphics themselves, the game doesn´t have to hide either. As one of the few indie games aiming for a more realistic look, it´s also one of the few that actually nails it, especially on the Switch.
Despite the lack of interesting ideas early on, relying mostly on rocks and flat white snow, the more time I spent, the more interesting the world became. Sometimes textures or environments are too undetailed or empty but overall, Embers of Mirrim is definitely one of the best-looking indie games out there, able to make full use of its qualities.
Embers of Mirrim is one of the few games I´m not sure what to think about. I really love the idea of the two Embers, the things Creative Bytes did with it and the challenging but forgiving difficulty. On the other hand, the other half, the jump´n run part, can feel so horrible when both the design and gameplay work against each other. There are also so many other things going on, like the generic story or uncreative bosses. Still, I had a lot of fun sometimes but raged equally hard at times. Should you buy it? I honestly don´t know for this price, but definitely for 15 bucks.
[A Review Code was provided by Creative Bytes]