Sometimes the most challenging opponent isn’t some menacing enemy with a huge sword, but a line of tiny temporary platforms positioned over a bottomless pit. While 3D action-adventure game Blue Fire seems to promise plenty of encounters with both, the brief, 30-minute hands-on demo I played on PC (Blue Fire is also now coming to PS4 and Xbox One, in addition to Nintendo Switch) left me wanting more – and had me wishing I’d seen just a little more variety in its fights.
As the diminutive fighter Umbra, I was able to navigate the abandoned castle halls of a world called Penumbra with fun traversal options like wall-running, double jumps, and quick dashes to cross gaps or avoid dangerous pitfalls. Given that I was only allowed one use of an extra jump and dash each time I leapt into the air, figuring out the best configuration of platforming to get past an area became a fun puzzle in itself. Being able to scamper along walls and bounce back into the air helped immensely, giving me several opportunities to reverse my mistakes after misjudging the distance to the next platform. I was also fascinated by the parameters of Umbra’s dash mechanic: holding down the button gave me a lengthy boost, but letting go early would stop my momentum completely, and became essential for landing on the tiny floating blocks that dotted the demo area.
If it sounds like there might be a few parallels to other action-platformers like Hollow Knight, you’re not far off. It also shares the hallmarks of exploring a forgotten and largely abandoned world, meeting up with the few survivors for scraps of lore about your predicament and identity, and collecting currency from enemies and objects alike to spend at special checkpoints. Blue Fire’s reverence to Hollow Knight may be laying it on a bit thick in certain areas – like its all too familiar menu style and the equipping of collected “spirits” to grant swappable bonuses – but the way Blue Fire handles its 3D exploration, as well as additional features like collectible weapons, emotes, and clothing, appears to do an admirable job at trying to set itself apart.
One particularly prominent feature I explored was an optional isolated area called a “Void” that transported me to a sort of challenge room, enticing me to hop my way across increasingly dangerous gaps to ruined platforms floating above an abyss. In these instances, quick camera positioning was just as important as accurately judging the length of jumps and dashes to correctly land on the tiny cubes that served as temporary stepping stools. Failing at any point sent me back to the start – and took a chunk out of my health to boot. I was able to follow collectible bread crumbs along the way, uncover hidden chests with upgrades off the beaten path, and got a ton of “souls” currency for completing the event. I only wish I was able to spend said currency on the exciting sounding upgrades that were sadly disabled for this demo, like a spin dash or a fireball.
That disappointment was an unfortunate lingering presence, but only because this demo ended far too soon. I would have loved to see how abilities like a spin attack could be used both in combat and for getting an extra boost in traversal. There were just enough enemies dotting the different rooms to give me a cursory overview of lock-on combat against tiny critters, longsword-wielding opponents, and a few floating turrets – but I found myself restarting the demo just to get more chances to experiment with these brief fights. Umbra can swing incredibly fast and hard, taking out most of these foes before they could do much in return, and I realized I was hardly paying attention to my character’s stamina bar that was slowly depleting with each strike. I’d even go so far as to wonder if a stamina bar is even necessary in Blue Fire, and would have loved for a bigger encounter to put that thought to the test.
With the demo ending just after witnessing a mysterious giant creature awaken in the darkness, I was left feeling just a bit conflicted. I do like what I’ve played so far: platforming feels fluid and precise, and there’s a lot of potential for Void zones to truly test your skills. Lock-on combat also feels like a great inclusion, but with so few enemies to fight it’s hard to say how varied and challenging things will actually get, or if unlockable abilities and upgrades will make a worthwhile difference. So while I’m certainly left with questions, I’m also eager to play more to find the answers to them.
Brendan Graeber is a Guides Editor at IGN, and gave up two points away from getting a full 112% completion rating in Hollow Knight like some sort of baby. Watch him wallow in his misery on Twitter @Ragga_Fragga.