Embers of Mirrim is a new platformer from Creative Bytes Studios. This title has a lot going for it. The storytelling is unlike anything I’ve played in a long time, because it’s entirely visual. Not a single word was spoken during my time with the game. But although the storytelling is interesting and provides a new twist in the way video game plots unfold, there are still some holes in it that add a bit of confusion to the narrative and the player. For the most part, the aspects of traditional platforming that the game twists into its own image works in its favor. However, it falters toward the end game, when it mixes the more fast-paced aspects of the genre with what has been put forth. If there was an aspect of the game that is unilateral in its quality, I’d say it’s the music. Never have I felt just an absolute level of tranquility that combines with the visuals, the movement, and the gameplay of its product.
The game, as I said, tells its story primarily through the visuals. The player controls a cat-like bird creature, similar to Trico in The Last Guardian, except it’s a whole lot smaller. Without spoiling too much, as this same information is found on the game’s website, the creature, whose name is Mirrim, is an amalgamation of two separate species. The player controls both creatures in separate levels in the beginning of the game, giving them a taste of what will come later. Through an incident that has to do with the conflict of the game, the creatures combine, creating Mirrim. The beginning of the game tells the story in a very clear way. It informs the player what is happening, and just launches them into the game. And really, the beginning of the game is where the innovative storytelling ends.
Every work that grounds itself in a genre eventually draws on previous entries from that genre for its own work, whether implicitly or explicitly. Currently, two games come to mind. Those are Super Mario and a recent game I reviewed, Bye-Bye Boxboy! The way the stories are told in all three of these games are similar. In Super Mario, the player just moves forward, not stopping until they realize that the princess is in another castle. The strengths of that game is the variety of platforms and the challenge of combining the enemy movements with getting to the next platform, as well as Mario’s speed and inertia. The fun of the game propels the player to finish it, even if the story is relatively weak. The storytelling of Boxboy! is similar to Mirrim’s, in that an entity is attacking the world. Boxboy!’s strength is the variety of methods in which the player can get to the platforms. The story combines itself with the mechanics so that the player is motivated to go forward.
So what is Mirrim’s strength? Well, related to the storytelling, it gives a legitimate reason for the player to start the game, as well as continue it. But the storytelling’s strength falters later in the game. I kept questioning why the game kept continuing, other than to provide new bosses and almost obscenely challenging areas to trudge through. So, although the plot is an age-old, tried-and-true method, and the storytelling is strikingly original but slows in the later acts. The aspect that is most critical in aiding players to advance the story is in its mechanics and gameplay.
The real innovation here is the gameplay. All the traditional platforming is here, Mirrim can run, sprint, jump, and even glide. But, like in Boxboy!, those moves aren’t enough for a game, so it changes things up. The way Mirrim innovates its gameplay is in its titular embers. In the beginning of the game, the two separate creatures who eventually become Mirrim can transform themselves into embers. On console controllers, this is done by pressing the right trigger, and then using the right analog stick to control one ember, and vice versa for the other. When the creatures combine, the player uses both embers, and thus must using four different parts of the controller at once. This adds a new dimension to the platforming, as it makes the player think. It also adds a puzzle-lite experience, which enhances the intellectual challenge of the gameplay.
The first few chapters of the game do a great job of prepping the player for what the later game will require. It provides individual challenges throughout the levels that require anything from timed jumping, such as anticipating when a giant rock will float under so the player can jump onto it, to running away from environmental hazards such as an avalanche. The pace of the game is much slower in those parts, and it pays off. It’s obviously meant as a sort of tutorial without being a tutorial.
This combination of traditional and new platforming makes for a tremendously successful effort on the part of the developers. The technique that goes into the platforming is unique and diversified. What I’ve mentioned of the splitting embers covers only about a fifth of the maneuvers that players can use to reach the next level. There are physics-based puzzles where the biggest obstacle can be a giant gap of space that the player must traverse, there are giant mushrooms the winged cat can bounce on, and cannons that shoot it across the level, and advanced spatial compensation is still required of the player on top of all that. I make it sound much more advanced and complicated than it really is but it feels like that at times.
The game however, does falter, sometimes badly. This is mostly in the mechanics, both new and old.
The innovative techniques in platformers like Boxboy! and Mirrim can almost be described as gimmicky. Cool for its product, but obsolete as soon as the player is done with it. Although those assessments sound unfair, there is merit for it. For the most part, Mirrim’s platforming is stellar. Sure, it’s tough to control two analog sticks at once, and even tougher keeping track of the glowing embers, but it’s almost never too chaotic to make the player lose control and knowledge of where the embers are going. Note that I say almost.
The worst parts of the game, parts that I have deemed the places where fun becomes frustrating, are almost pretentious in their execution. These happen mostly in the initial stages of boss fights. What happens, pretty much consistently, is that the boss will pop in out of nowhere at a specific time on a specific level (for clarification, there is more than one boss,) the player basically just starts running, jumping over obstacles, splitting into embers, and other maneuvers that they’ve learned over the course of the game. In words, this seems simple, but the execution is far from it.
Overshoots of obstacles abound, as with Mirrim’s running and jumping comes obscured platforms that the player must compensate for, or at least learn to compensate for, because it’s almost impossible to see the gaps between those platforms. And that’s only part of it. At another point in the game, there is a multi-stage boss fight that is possibly the pinnacle of tediousness and pretentiousness. The enemy shoots at the ground where the player is running, forcing them to jump, then, in a sort of psyche-out move, the enemy will shoot far above the player, conveniently at the jumping height, so if they jump at that point, they’re gone. That, combined with the hidden platforms, resulted in probably more than a dozen in-game deaths for me. Now, I’m willing to bet that it may have been a spot of poor gameplay on my part, but there are two halves to this whole.
For one, there is nothing very strategic about these fights, which have a difficulty not on par with the Souls games, but can certainly feel like it. In the dozen or so deaths that I experienced, I noticed that the boss had the exact same move set and attack strategy every time. It was something like two shots on the bottom, then one shot on top, then one shot on the bottom, then again on top, and then three rapid fire shots before taking a break to let the player get to the next platform. There is no way for the player to mix up their strategy, they, like me, just have to count, again and again, how many shots go into each stage of the fight, and hope they don’t get hit on the next run, and have to start the fight all over again. That’s not fun, it’s frustrating. Also, as the game’s story comes to a head, more enemies appear throughout the platforming. But they’re not enemies Mirrim can defeat. This is where the ember-splitting becomes a gimmick. It’s relied on almost as a crutch, and it gets more and more difficult to keep track of where they are on the monitor or screen that the same strategy for the boss fight (that is, to work with the game, not have the game work with you) must be used again. What was peaceful and artistic the first time around becomes tedious and repetitive, not to mention that the embers are not infinite. They run out of energy, and their limit seems to fluctuate based on the situation the player is in.
Embers of Mirrim is an ambitious game. It combines visual storytelling with mechanics that make the player think about how to get through obstacles, and also has a touch of fast-paced escape fights that, while aiming to fill the moment with tension, ultimately falls flat. The technique of splitting embers is great and well-paced at first, but becomes aggravating later in the game. There is also not any good reason why the player should care for some of the other characters in the game, because quite frankly, cuteness is not enough. The best parts of the game are not the largest ones, but the smaller touches. As I’ve mentioned, the music is impeccable. It hits the right beats, even if the gameplay renders it pointless. If there’s one aspect of the game that is not shown enough though, it’s the close-up view of Mirrim that is used possibly not even five times throughout the game. That shot brings more intimacy to the player’s relationship to Mirrim, giving them a better reason to care for it. Overall, the developers did a good job. There are parts of the game that work, and parts that don’t work, it’s fun, challenging and frustrating, making for a multifaceted experience.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I am Nicholas Leon. My nickname is Nick, and it all started when I fired up Super Mario 64. I then moved on to the Zelda series (I beat Wind Waker on my dad's old save file a couple years ago) and other Nintendo products. I then moved on to Microsoft products where I have played the majority of my games. I got into first-person shooters in middle school, and although my interest in them has subsided over time, there are still plenty of interesting titles in that area. My first foray into online gaming happened in high school with Battlefield 3. Now, I'm getting more into PC gaming, and I also just bought my first PS4. and own my very first Pokemon game in Moon.
I love intelligent games. That doesn't mean they have to be smart, they just have to know what they are. Action, horror, RPGs, Wii Sports, you name it. I'm always down for new adventures.
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