Developer: Stealth Bastard Games
Publisher: Humble Games
Genre: 2D Stealth Platformer
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Wildfire
Release Date: May 25, 2020
The Kickstarter pitch for Wildfire is pretty simple, a stealth platformer, set in a medieval fantasy world in which the player uses magic to distract and terrify enemies. At first blush the game delivers on that pitch and much more.
The 16-bit art style for Wildfire is a great mix of detailed backgrounds, simplified character designs, and an almost soothing color pallet. Combined with the understated but atmospheric music makes for an aesthetic package that is a little mesmerizing. Overall the game’s visuals and sound display a great deal of attention to detail even though they don’t necessarily have much of a jaw-dropping wow factor.
Wildfire plays similarly to more modern iterations of 2D stealth games like Mark of the Ninja or Gunpoint as opposed to the classic Abe’s Oddysee style. In the triple-A space the closest thing to Wildfire would be something like the Assassin’s Creed or Batman Arkham series of games. For those unfamiliar with the genre, as the name implies, stealth platformers combine the traversal mechanics of running, jumping, climbing, etc. from platformers with stealth mechanics like hiding, distracting enemies. Typically in stealth platformers the challenge comes more from the stealth side of things than from the platforming with enemies that are tough to kill or incapacitate forcing players to carefully circumvent them rather than just jump on their heads. Wildfire sets itself apart by embracing chaos a bit more than most games in the genre. Traditionally the most a player could do to distract an enemy would be to make a noise or, in more futuristic settings, throw up some kind of holographic decoy. In Wildfire, players take the role of a witch in a medieval fantasy setting. This makes the most useful distraction in Wildfire the superstitious fears of the knights and hunters and whatnot sent to track down the player.
That, and the ability to set raging grass fires that spread in often unpredictable ways.
The unpredictability of the way that systems interact is one of the most compelling aspects of the game. Throughout the game players gain elemental powers like throwing fireballs, creating floating bubbles a la bubble bobble, and creating new climbing paths using vines. None of the abilities that stem from the elements can be used to outright kill any of the enemies in the game. About the best any single spell can manage is a few seconds of unconsciousness or distraction. This makes completing stages in Wildfire an exercise in patience and planning, right up until something goes wrong. One misplaced fireball or poorly timed jump can end up setting off explosions or alerting guards leading to utter chaos. Finding ways to exploit that chaos is the gameplay challenge and the learning curve for the game. Early on, before fully unlocking all the abilities, the game is fairly simple and under control. By the end of the game, though, once all the powers are at the player’s disposal and the stages have become significantly larger a playground atmosphere takes hold. It helps that panicked enemies have silly dialog lines and sound effects and are charmingly animated.
The Touching Story of Wildfire
The story of Wildfire does a fantastic job of walking a tightrope with corny, over-earnestness on one side, and complete ridiculousness on the other. The game opens with a meteor falling on the home village of the player character who discovers the conveniently magic imbued rock and unlocks their mystical potential. The falling star also makes the village a target for witch-hunting knights from a neighboring city. The knights forcibly remove all the villagers and leave the player character for dead. The way the gameplay works requires a certain amount of silliness but the underlying themes of abuse of power, self-actualization, and deep-seated ethnic animosity require a more serious tone. Wildfire succeeds by humanizing all but the most dyed in the wool villains. This makes even the guards opposing the player seem like pawns caught in an abusive system that has repeated for generations. The story ultimately resolves with a truly touching ending that touches on all the themes of the story in a very satisfying conclusion.
The thing that saves Wildfire’s story from saccharine corniness is the various ruins scattered throughout the game. These relics of a past society whisper to the player through little bits of poetry found on stones that lend color and shape to the various powers unlocked throughout the game.
The overall quality of life in Wildfire is well above industry standards in some ways. The game features New Game + which adds replay value to what is a fairly short game. New Game + is also a nice addition since there aren’t enough upgrade points available in a single playthrough to fully power up all the abilities in the game. Wildfire also has a great set up for accessibility options. The gamepad can be fully remapped and there is a preset mapping for one-handed play.
The checkpointing and autosave features also function very well which is a must for a game like this where chaos can lead to unexpected deaths. These features are also useful on the rare occasion that a bug forces the player character out of bounds requiring a quick restart.
Verdict: Wildfire is a delightfully chaotic game with a touching story and a soothing aesthetic. Despite some slightly rough edges the game is a fantastic experience.
- Delightful Chaotic Gameplay
- Soothing Aesthetic
- Touching Storytelling
- Occasional Bugs