For a game with a title which sounds like a 80’s rock band, Primal Flame [$2.99] is surprisingly serene. In fact, it’s more than serene, it’s beautiful; and not just a hackneyed beauty either, it’s poetic.
And it’s beautiful in more ways than one. First off, it has the most beau…OK wait, let me think of another word, how about…bewitching, title music I’ve heard in a while. This is iTunes-worthy stuff.
It’s a simple piano riff, but it sets the mood perfectly for what’s to come. I spent a good three minutes just listening to it before I thought I should probably go ahead and you know, play the game.
It describes itself as ‘arcade action’, but it's not loud or brash. The setting is a forest; one where darkness surrounds you until you swipe the screen to light a match, illuminating the gloom and making you realise you’re all alone save for strange lights drifting down from the sky, and slithering dark flowers who want to extinguish your fire. In the distance, a wolf howls.
The lights are your energy source that must be collected in order to keep your flame burning, while those creepy-looking flowers attempt to harass you into becoming tangled up, or ensnare the drifting lights themselves so you can’t collect them.
The dark flowers can’t be hurt head-on, but if you drag your flame across their stems, you can singe them in half. If they manage to get in your way, you’ll have to relight your fire like the 70's pop song, but it will make your subsequent flame run down quicker, meaning you have to frantically collect lights and avoid plants – as well as falling dark leaves – before you’re snuffed out.
So however you ended up in this forest, it's not just going to let you set up a campsite and admire nature. It wants you out, and it’s a case of staying alive; more a wave based affair than straight arcade action. The main thing is, it completely drew me in. The animation as your match lights just enough of your surroundings to see what you’re doing, and the threat of snaking tendrils in the darkness from the other side of the screen is wonderful.
It’s the sound that makes it though. Play this with headphones because the ambient effects – wind rustling through trees, branches creaking in the background and the aforementioned wolf - combine beautifully to foster a real sense of isolation. Heck, grab your Beats by Dr Dre, load up the game and take of the lights. Then you'll really see what I'm talking about.
But the sound you really want to listen out for is the muted yelps the tiny balls of light make as the dark flowers lurch forward and capture them. It’s heartbreaking. You’ll feel something, I swear to you. You’ll want to rescue every single one of them even if it means your light dying in the process. Either that or I'm going soft in my old age.
See, that’s the thing about Primal Flame: it does something to you. Something so profound that you can look past its niggles such as the fact that for your first few plays, because you have to keep your finger pressed against the screen for fear of your flame dying, you’ll feel as if your thumb is impeding your view, making it difficult to see what you’re doing accurately. But you’ll soon become accustomed and fall into its charming rhythms. Just make sure when you return to it after hitting pause, you hold your thumb down before unpausing, otherwise a life will be unnecessarily wasted. It’s awkward to say the least.
It would’ve also been nice if there was some sort of context. As gorgeous as it is, I still would’ve liked a little story, as well as a few more backdrops (there are only three levels, but more are coming in an update). How did I end up stuck in a haunted forest with only a box of matches for comfort, facing an insomniac wolf and gang of bipolar veggies?
And the lack of different levels made me realise – the concept would’ve been spectacular as a First Person 3D adventure.
But hey, let me not get too greedy. It is what it is, and it definitely hooked me. This is a game with no IAP (you can upgrade your flame with spells and enhancements from an in-game shop, but you’ve got to work for the points to purchase them), and it even has inspirational quotes from Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the loading screens. How many App Store titles have that?
Arcade action? Maybe. But Primal Flame could start a whole new genre if it wanted. A 'la Flappy Bird and it's 101 clones, I wouldn't be surprised if this ushered in a wave of ‘Strike-a-match-and-avoid-evil-falling-leaves’ games because it completely sucked me in. Like the proverbial moth to the flame, you could say.
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