There’s bear dwarfs in this game. And that’s really all you need to know about that. If you’re still not convinced then “guinea pig in armor” should suffice.
If you’ve read my blog for long enough, you know I’m not really into fantasy. At least not as it’s normally presented. I’ve grown to really dislike the idea of elves and dwarfs and dragons and knights in shining armor. To me, fantasy is not a genre defined by specific characteristics except that it’s only limited by your imagination, or fantasy if you prefer. Unlike science fiction, which finds its basis in science, fantasy is not tethered by what we perceive as reality.
As such, recurring elements that all bear similar traits bore me something fierce. This type of fantasy fiction is usually referred to as “High Fantasy” and Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is pretty much the template for it. And it is rare for something like that to get me interested.
So Emberwing then…
You live a pretty unremarkable life with your son, earning your living by creating intricate clockwork toys and machines. But one evening, when the biggest issue of the day was your son’s broken toy dragon, a dragon suddenly emerges from the night and steals your son away, burning the house down in the process. Barely escaping with your life intact, you can do nothing but cry out for your son as he’s flown off. But how can this be? Dragons haven’t been seen in hundreds of years, not since the last great war. Why have they emerged now and what possible interest could it have in your son? Armed only with your wits and whatever you can scrounge from your surroundings, you must find the dragon and save your son. But all is not as it seems…
Dragons seem to be all the craze the last few years and I can’t possibly imagine why…
When I first started playing “Emberwing”, I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. A mother in search of her child, an evil dragon flying off into the distance, elves living in trees? Please, I eat stories like this for breakfast! Even the twist felt predictable because even good dragons and evil elves isn’t that much of a new thing.
So I was seriously starting to reconsider reviewing the game. I don’t review all games I play, though I’m working on a method for doing that, so this would just be another one I never really said anything about.
It wasn’t the fault of the game, though. For what it is, it’s pretty good. The hidden object scenes are varied and there’s not so many of them that they get tedious. Between silhouettes, regular list and word games, there was enough to keep the idea fresh and one was not overused over any other.
There were even one or two fragmented object scenes in there which delighted me to no end. Readers of my “Rapunzel” review will remember it’s one of my favorite forms so to see it in here really spruced the game up for me. There was a fair bit of interactivity spread about, some scenes had more than others and it was a bit of a puzzle from time to time to figure out exactly what needed to be done next.
And the rarity of the scenes kept them fresh too but with four or five different varieties of hidden object scenes, they could’ve had a few more scattered about. But that’s always a fine line, the balance between too many and too few is an easily upset one and in this instance I’d much rather take too few over too many. One leaves you wanting more, the other can break a game.
One additional thing worth mentioning is that the scenes were very well designed. Rather than just a handful of objects scattered randomly about, there was a lot of air in the scenes which helped keep the stress levels down. It didn’t, however, make it easier, really. Using interactivity and zoom in areas really freed up a lot of space and allowed for some more creative thinking. Very much approved. There was also the odd puzzle put in which was a treat.
It’s one of those rare occurrences where the hidden object aspects of the game were worth sticking around for. The puzzles were another aspect that I greatly enjoyed though perhaps not without reservation. There were still a few of what I call non-puzzles scattered about but this time they hardly dominated. The featured picture on the right was simply a matter of flipping each tile until it had the right image on it. Let’s be honest here, it’s not much more than a speed bump when it’s designed like that. If pressing one tile flipped one or more of the other tiles then we’d be talking puzzle but as it stands, it’s not much of a puzzle, is it? Just a really weird and far too easy lock.
That out of the way, the game still put on a good show when it came to the puzzles. Some were a bit more fiddly than others while some required actual thinking and not just wild spinning of dials and hoping for the best.
And would you believe it, a damn sudoku puzzle. Well, parts of one. But while smaller than a regular sudoku, the strange layout and symbols instead of colors or numbers definitely threw me for a loop. I almost had a heart attack when I saw it because I had almost forgotten what it was like to have to think and plan and structure my solution. Very odd feeling that.
Beyond that you had your standard offering of jigsaws, strange maze like games and combined puzzles with hidden object scenes. As well as the aforementioned non-puzzles that showed up and annoyed me from time to time.
So what was it that finally swung the tides from “It’s a pretty good game.” to “I need to review this and tell the world about it!”? Well, I’m glad that you asked.
Bam! Dwarf bears. I’m just gonna let that sink in for a while…
You alright yet? I realize it can take a while for it to sink in properly but it’s absolutely true. There are dwarfs in this game that are actually bears. And they have armor. And their own castle. And there’s one playing a lute or something! It’s absolutely adorable and cute and in an odd way, terribly frightening.
In fairness, the change comes a lot sooner than that, though. The bears weren’t really seen until the third act, maybe the end of the second act if you prefer. The change starts occurring already after the first act when you’re first let into the Crossings, a small town populated by elves, goblins and all manner of fae folk. It’s here that you get a real feel for the world and its inhabitants. The bear dwarfs, as awesome as they may be, are really just the cherry on top of what is already a pretty delicious sundae.
The setting doesn’t make a game but it can definitely diminish the experience. I’ve spoken before how I can quickly become uninterested in the story and how much that hurts the game. Here it’s the complete opposite: I was completely uninterested in the story and found the game to be okay but nothing really stood out and then bam, dwarf bears.
It shows more creativity and willingness to actually think outside the box. “Awakening” did something similar when they made goblins a huge part of the world rather than elves or the like. So this is something I definitely enjoy when it comes to Boomzap’s games. It’s that little extra that makes them stand out and are worth talking about above “Generic Fantasy HOPA 243“.
But “Emberwing” isn’t perfect. Although from 2014, which is ancient in HOG time, the graphics at times really could’ve used that extra bit of polish. There’s beautiful use of color here, using blue as the dominant color and a variety of others to highlight and keep the whole thing interesting. Characters are designed beautifully and are for the most part really well animated. Strangely I found them almost better animated in the game itself rather than in cutscenes.
Some parts feel slightly lower in quality than others and cutscenes were more likely to take you of the story rather than draw you in. Characters were normally animated simply but well whereas movement in the cutscenes could feel very stiff and unnatural. Which is, given the subject matter, fitting in a way but I think, if I were to make it myself, that I would’ve chosen even more of a storybook style with narration.
Which leads me seamlessly into my next complaint which was the voices. Not the audio, the music in this game was bloody gorgeous. Normally HOPA music sounds good and fitting in the game but it’s rarely worth listening to outside the game itself. Not so here, oh no, I actually really enjoy this soundtrack even outside the game. So to whoever composed it, big thumb up to you!
No, my issue lies solely with the voices. They weren’t all bad but there was a disconnect between some voices and their characters. The bear dwarfs threw me for a complete loop as they didn’t sound anything like I expected them to. Which is both good and bad, no-one ever said bears had to have deep, booming, gravely voices and it’s good that they didn’t just do what was expected. But it also means you have this initial period where the player has to adjust and it’s very sudden. Other voices simply weren’t up to the quality of others.
I also experienced delays during the cutscenes where the dialog ended a lot earlier than the scene itself would suggest. Sometimes it was a minor annoyance but the birdman was horrendous with this, his speech ending way before the cutscene did and then he just kinda… hung out in silence for a while before flapping off. Could’ve been my computer, I had some issues getting this running for some reason, I actually got it a few months back but then it didn’t work, kept freezing my computer so I set it to the side and now it suddenly worked. Still, rather specific issue with my computer if it was.
Look, I understand the allure of keeping your protagonist silent to allow players to feel like it’s them experiencing it rather than seeing it through someone else’s eyes. And that’s great, it works wonders for some games, like “Dark Parables” which despite ten games or so have yet to reveal anything about the protagonist other than that its profession is a “Fairy Tale Detective”. And it works so don’t fix what isn’t broken. But the key difference here is that we know quite a lot about her. We know it’s a she, some games won’t even divulge that much, she’s a single mother, quite good with mechanical things and we even know what she looks like. We also know she’s not mute because she communicates with others just fine.
So at that point I feel it’s rather necessary to voice the protagonist or you have these weird parts where she sees her son being stolen to be possibly eaten by a dragon and she doesn’t do so much as scream. I know Boomzap has no issue with characters being voiced so the decision sort of confuses me. Perhaps it was orders from on up high? Whatever the reason, not a big fan.
It was almost comical at times, the mother desperately stretching her arms after the son just clutched by a dragon and flown off into the night… and not a peep. Emote, woman! That’s one of those rare opportunities in life where you really are allowed to scream “NOOOOOOOO!!!”
Other moments were designed for giggling purposes, like “goat in a coat” (actual name of a goat in a coat as far as I could tell) or a bloody Star Wars joke. It caught me so off guard I almost fell over. Who wrote this dialog, I need more of it! And they could be quite cheeky with their puzzles and hidden object scenes as well. Such as the below one where I struggled to find the final birdman at one point. You’re never gonna guess where he is.
But what really, really, REALLY made me love the game… was that I got lost. That’s another one of those weird feelings I had forgotten what it was like. I got lost and I enjoyed it. “Emberwing” was much more of an exploration game than many other HOPA and it expected you to return to certain areas after you were supposedly done with them. The Crossings was one big hub where you went back and forth, back and forth, left, right, up, down and so on. And sometimes I got lost.
I played the game on the highest difficulty which removed Hints and Skip and clues on the map entirely and I highly recommend doing the same if you try it. It gave me much more of a retro adventure game feel, having to roam around and figure out what item you’re using wrong. Only once dare I say I got lost because the game was a bit poor with its direction but otherwise it was all me, missing important things or just not using the proper item.
As for the Bonus Chapter, it was alright. Didn’t really add much to the game itself but rather disappointingly set up a sequel that might never come. I actually got in touch with Boomzap about any potential sequel and they had this to say:
I got in touch with Big Fish to see if they had anything to say but I have yet to receive a reply. I imagine it’s not typical procedure to give out information like that but still, I’m actually quite invested in this franchise now. Give me more!
Other than that there was your standard array of concept art, music and wallpapers as well as a few achievements, some rather cheeky as well. Petting the goat five times must be my favorite or chasing the cat, really rather odd things. For the record I got the goat achievement but missed the cat one. Bugger it all.
With all of that said it’s time to sort of collect my thoughts in one final paragraph. But if you’ve read my entire post you’ll know that I recommend this. Especially if you’re into fantasy as it delivers something not very common which is something new. Or at the very least, a new take on something familiar. It’s pretty high quality but it’s not perfect. It has flaws, some drove me mental while others merely niggled a bit before I forgot about them. But I feel fairly comfortable recommending it to beginners and veterans alike.
And if nothing else, I leave you with this. ‘Cause if this won’t warm your heart then you’re already lost.
I really hope Boomzap releases one or two more HOGs because I’m running out of their games to play. All I’ve got left is a Knightstone game and that’s probably my least favorite franchise they make. Ah well…