Embers of Mirrim

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Creative Bytes
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2017

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Switch Review - 'Embers of Mirrim'

by Andreas Salmen on March 21, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Embers of Mirrim is an adventure-platformer where two proud races must set aside their differences and come together, in order to save their world from an alien threat.

Indie games are the lifeblood of small-scale experimental concepts across all genres. If there's one genre that screams "experimental game design," it's the puzzle platformer. Embers of Mirrim checks all of those boxes. It's an ambitious cinematic platformer with a simple but interesting approach to its puzzle gameplay. Trying new things and mixing gameplay styles comes with the inherent risk of not getting it quite right, and while Embers of Mirrim feels like a mostly well-designed experience, it does have its share of shortcomings.

Embers of Mirrim tells the story of animal-like creatures that look like a cross between a baby dragon and a griffin. The two rival tribes are faced with a force that threatens their existence, so they must overcome their differences and band together. The beauty of the storytelling is that the game doesn't really tell you what's going on. There is no dialogue, written or otherwise. There's only atmospheric music paired with cinematic action shots of what's happening on the screen. That's enough, as the style and design of the story work well enough to get the point across. As soon as the creatures are attacked, the two tribes converge to free their fellow dragon-griffins before besting the larger threat.

Since it's a puzzle platformer, Embers of Mirrim doesn't feel too unfamiliar. We can jump and glide from ledge to ledge, and a downward dash loosens boulders or destroys objects. The 2-D platforming segments are straightforward and work as they should. When the puzzle segments are introduced, Embers of Mirrim picks up the pace. While we traverse the world, we can split into two separate entities — or embers — for a short period of time. The left and right trigger buttons split into corresponding green and purple embers that we can move with the left and right sticks.

It's a simple enough concept, but it comes with certain limitations and challenges. As soon as we split into embers, we only have a short time frame to move around before we're forcefully reunited and, usually, fall to our death from great heights. The puzzles are designed so we have to hit certain environmental objects to extend the embers so we can reach the next platform or segment. There are usually two elements in the puzzles: floating color-coded platforms and color-coded meshes on top of the game world.

While moving through the correct mesh, our embers are frozen in time and can be used as long as needed, unless they leave the marked area. The platforms reset the timer before the embers have to reunite into a physical presence, prolonging things just a bit. There are also meshes that prevent us from splitting into embers.

The puzzle difficulty relies heavily on our multi-tasking abilities and hand-eye coordination to simultaneously get the two embers where they need to go. The second challenge is where to land our protagonist after the embers reunite. The game always indicates where the two embers meet once they reunite and uses this in puzzles, so you have to move the embers in a certain way to land on a specific platform in addition to managing the embers themselves.

This alone provides ample opportunities for a variety of puzzles without feeling repetitive. It eventually loses some of its appeal and can get frustrating when you're already struggling to move the embers independently and they get stuck in the environment. Toward the second half, Embers of Mirrim introduces several environmental objects that can be influenced differently by the embers as well as directional platforms that launch us in specific directions. None of the puzzles overstay their welcome, which is partly due to the fact that Embers of Mirrim is a rather short affair. It prevents the title from getting repetitive, but the amount of content also makes it tougher to recommend at the $20 price point.

In addition to the atmospheric storytelling, the game has a few nice set pieces, like boss fights that test our puzzle skills and work on a bigger scale than most of the game. They are well designed but suffer from their size. Even on a big TV, it's easy to lose track of our protagonist because the camera is zoomed out quite far. When playing in handheld mode, this becomes extra frustrating at times, and it's those frustrating moments that add challenge. On the normal difficulty level, the game tests our skills, but it never feels like too much. There are moments when you fail for reasons that feel out of your control, and those don't feel as well designed as the rest of the experience.

It's nice that Embers of Mirrim has a difficulty setting in the first place, which is not too common for platformers. The main difference between modes is that we can usually take two hits in easy mode, while we have to pick up special armor embers on the medium difficulty that appear occasionally throughout the stages. On hard mode, armor embers are completely gone, so any damage taken resets you to one of the frequent checkpoints. There were certain passages in the game that felt like they were designed with two hits in mind, so some areas on the hardest difficulty are extremely punishing.

Once we've beaten the five areas, we can theoretically return to find hidden symbols that we have to connect using the embers. There are 28 in total, and we only found about one-third in our first playthrough. If you're keen on jumping back in and finding hidden passages, Embers of Mirrim has you covered. Generally speaking, the game doesn't push the second playthrough, and the title is probably only good for one run unless you're really into the style and gameplay.

The execution is great. The visuals and the stages can look quite atmospheric, and they capture the title's esoteric essence . It still feels rough around the edges in certain parts, but that's a minor piece of a much larger and beautiful puzzle. In combination with the captivating music and experimental puzzle gameplay, Embers of Mirrim often manages to achieve its goals. Otherwise, there are no Switch-specific remarks to be made; this title plays and runs perfectly in all configurations and is a solid port.

Embers of Mirrim is a solid puzzle-platformer with atmospheric visuals and storytelling woven into interesting puzzle segments. It's rather short and can sometimes be frustrating due to a few shortcomings, but the overall package is quite fun and engaging to play through once.

Score: 7.5/10

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