At first glance, The Last Campfire looks and feels like many other cute, well-designed puzzle games that aim at both kids and adults alike. You play as Ember, a lone and seemingly lost creature trying to find their way through a mysterious world and help other Embers on their way. However, after a while, you notice how the themes of loneliness, sadness and being stuck without being able to help oneself emerge from every single, lovingly designed corner of the game. But more than that, Ember emerges as a being of incredible tenderness and empathy, helping where they can and being guided by the soothing voice of Charlotte McBurney who most people might know from the amazing but not-at-all-suitable-for-kids game “A Plague Tale”.
The developers Hello Games tried to combine inspiration from 80s kid’s shows and movies that – despite being aimed at kids – had some darker aspects to them. In an Interview with Eurogamer, Sean Murray says “We always talk about films that we’ve grown up with like ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Dark Crystal’, and we were saying pretty much every British kids TV show in the 80s had some weird edge to it.”
Now, The Last Campfire is a lot less dark than any of those movies, so parents can relax. There are darker themes and some morbidly cute skeletons but overall the game is both visually and thematically like a soft version of the referenced material. However, when it comes to the story and the underlying themes, it really hit a nerve with me. Maybe it was/is the pandemic but it felt nearly cathartic to help stranded and stuck Embers and release them. Even more than that, it moved me incredibly whenever a newly released Ember would state that they would join us later because they needed more time.
Some even outright refuse to get help. I imagine that this is a wonderful lesson for kids (and for adults). You can offer your help but you don’t have to force it on people. Some people need time or need to find other ways to get out of whatever troubles them. At a time, when pretty much everyone suffers from some sort of emotional and mental fatique, depression, burn-out and whatnot, this is a lovely message to give. And the game feels strangely comforting because you know, all those Embers will eventually find their way.
I absolutely loved the game and I am not too proud to admit that it made me cry towards the end. Oh, and the puzzle are great as well. Did I mention that this is a puzzle game?