At first glance, Lost Ember may look like a high octane platformer where you take control of a wolf that jumps around as they explore, but looks can be deceiving. In fact, if that's the type of game you want to play, we might point you in the direction of Crash Bandicoot.
Instead, Lost Ember is a majestic, story-driven affair where you can run, fly and swim. You can't die and your job is just to explore and uncover a gripping story. There are also light puzzles and collectables that we will get to later. Things get even more interesting as you can also morph and take control of other animals, including fish, ducks and wombats. But first: the story.
We're going to keep things vague so as not to spoil the narrative, as the game tells it so well and any words we write here won't do it justice. Basically, you start off as a wolf who is actually the reincarnation of a human who didn't ascend to the City of Light after they died. These trapped spirits are known as 'lost embers', and you are joined by another glowing orb-thing that is also trying to make his way to the City of Light.
That's all we're going to tell you about the story, but it's safe to say that it is a well written and moving tale that focusses on love and redemption. The story itself is told through a series of flashbacks that look like dioramas and cutscenes which wouldn't look out of place in a graphic novel. The little orb also guides the story, explaining these dioramas to you.
The developer says that you can finish the game in around five-six hours, but if you rush you can shave a bit of time off that. However, Lost Ember was not made to be rushed, and in fact, we found ourselves exploring the environments and often just standing there and taking in the breathtaking views.
Visually, Lost Ember has a simplistic style that reminded us of games including Journey and Fe. The environments look great, with splendid use of textures making this a joy to behold. You make your way through grasslands, rocky areas, water, and even underground.
Different areas can be reached by different animals, such as the duck, which can fly down the bluffs and reach lower areas, or the brilliantly comical wombat, which rolls around and can go through small tunnels that your wolf just can't. In fact, it is this menagerie that adds a light puzzle element, as certain animals will allow you to traverse certain areas, such as the wombat who can go underground, or the fish that can swim through water. While there's nothing too taxing, it does add something to the whole experience.
Many of the areas you enter have an open world feel, but this is a carefully guided experience that you never seem to lose your way in - you always feel like you know what to do. This is a credit to the brilliant work of the developers who maintain a sense of freedom while never overwhelming you.
Mechanically, Lost Ember is spot on. Whether you're running and jumping as the wolf, rolling as the wombat, swimming as a fish, or flying as a hummingbird, the controls and animations work really well. It feels perfectly designed for a controller, and in this way, it does feel like a 3D platformer, just one in which you can't die, fight or kill anything.
While you're walking, swimming or rolling around you come across certain things like mushrooms and artefacts that you can collect. They often require a little bit of searching for, as they might be tucked away behind a bush, or hidden on a ledge that you need a bird to reach. For the completionist, this adds another facet to an already polished experience. You'll also need to use other animals abilities to find everything.
We've talked about the story and the graphics, so now the sound. The music is wonderful and atmospheric and is totally in keeping with the experience. There is also some dialogue, mainly coming in the flashbacks and from the little orb guiding you, although at times the delivery of certain lines, especially from the orb, felt a little forced.
Now, for the bad. Aside from the moments of dialogue that were off, we noticed a few bugs. Nothing game-breaking, but they were a little annoying. There was clipping, but most irritating were the slight freezes where the frame rate reduced to zero for a split second. It didn't ruin our experience, but it was noticeable and something we hope can be fixed soon in a patch.
All in all, we had a wonderful time with Lost Ember. The story is magnificent, it boasts a brilliant soundtrack, and there's a great range of animals for you to take control of during your adventure. While it did have a few bugs, we have no doubts in recommending this game to players who love story-driven adventures and so-called walking sims.