Lost Ember is the debut title from German developer Mooneye Studios. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a few years in development, Lost Ember is now here. Having personally backed it during the campaign, I have been waiting to play this title for some time now. Its initial trailer filled me with intrigue, and who would not be drawn in by the pitch to overtake an array of animals and experience them in a variety of settings. So did they deliver on their promise, or did they let the project run wild? Let us take a look at what the small team of five was able to come up with in their debut title.
Lost Ember is a narrative heavy, animal hopping adventure that revolves around an unwinding story of folklore, developing civilization, and ultimately, spirituality. We are introduced to a wandering spirit, longing for anyone to understand it. The voice of the spirit is clearly male, so let’s call it a he moving forward. He makes a connection with a wolf that seems to understand him, and this kicks off their adventure together. The spirit believes that, according to folklore, the wolf is a Lost Ember, and needs guidance to get to the City of Light, a sort of heaven it seems. The spirit, who has no memories of his past but recalls the history and lay of the land, thinks that once it helps the wolf, he too will be accepted into the City of Light.
Throughout the game, you will traverse the land looking for memories. Activating these memories gives you a glimpse into the past, in efforts to figure out why you were left out of the City of Light, so that you can ultimately resolve it and have both Wolf and Spirit enter the true afterlife. The story is well told through these memories, with some being cutscenes, and others being more dioramas that you walk along side. The spirit serves as the voice of the game, and is well acted out, while some of the voices in the memories are forgettable. The spirit is often passionately expressive, having quite the range of emotions through the ups and downs of the journey. With the conversations between the two main characters being one sided, it is impressive to see the budding dynamic here. The narrative is the strongest aspect of the game, so with that said, we should dissect how you will travel from memory to memory.
Animal hopping is the name of the game. The wolf can easily shift into the consciousness of other animals at any time when within range of them. From ducks and parrots, to moles and tortoises, to buffalo and wombats, there is nice little selection of wild creatures to inhabit. Naturally, not every animal is the same, so neither is the level of enjoyment while using them. Your first romp as a wombat will allow you to get into smaller areas, while looking extra cute too. If you happen to be on a hilltop, rolling down said hill is a fun breeze while a wombat. So a simple starter animal so to speak. Hummingbirds can traverse very quickly, but need to be sped in one direction at a time. Authentic, sure, but also kind of a drag to spend your time button mashing. There is a worm that is mostly for show, the not so cute moles used for burrowing, and the beefy buffalo (who was fun to use until the screen shake effect started to become nauseating.) Some birds were better to use than others, and being a fish was typically fun, especially during these downstream “sledding” style scenarios. By far the stand out was the mountain goat, who was not only quick and able to knock over barriers, but had the ability to do the world renowned goat parkour we have all come to know and love. That is right, you can scale steep angled walls and climb with ease. I thought this was the best use of an animals needed traversals, because it seemed so important to keep climbing at the goat’s iteration in the story.
All is not fun in games though, as the game is noticeably unpolished. The animals in particular take the hit in this department. The ones you do not control, certain breeds more than others, feel rather unlively. This takes away from the wondrous, wild feeling the game seems to aim for. In action, I was able to cause quite the ruckus in the technical department to. As a fish, I tracked down a collectible in a narrow sewer that was clearly meant to be explored. After snagging the Mario-esque antique pipe, there was an opening out of reach for the fish, but my nature suggested I at least try to get up there. So I tried, and at one point I phased back to a wolf to see if that would help. It did not, and instead put me outside of the wall. I was in a dead zone, and had to reload a checkpoint to get back. Another situation saw me, a simple duck, force my way into an underwater cavern, where I could fly and airwalk. That should not be possible. I have a slew of clips of things gone wrong, from my wolf not reforming, to the spirit just straight up missing. There is plenty wrong that slowly started to outweigh the good.
The game has technical issues in general, not just when it comes to the animals. Performance in the last chapter takes a huge hit, as the snowy mountain effects are just to much for the title to handle. The game slows down to a drag, the visual effects just plain do not look good, and the wolf’s movement is slowed as an effect as well. It all wraps up to make the end more of a chore to get to instead of a grand accomplishment. Cutscenes almost always had a screen tear at the bottom of my screen, frame rate issues were evident during background loading, and the animal’s movements lacked a sense of intelligence. That last one is what bothered me the most. I felt that the land based animals needed a sort of “stickiness” to their legs, in terms of everything being leveled to the surface they were on. If not all, at least the wolf. When on a peak or edge, the wolf’s legs would just stick out over the air and remain leveled, instead of stopping at the peak. Again, something like this takes away from that fantasy of being the creature.
Visually, I found a lot of moments to be highly photogenic and quite beautiful. Though some textures were less than stellar up close, mostly everything looked great at a distance. The lighting and color palette stand out as some of the best aspects of the look here, but keep in mind that snow storm effect I mentioned was one of the worst features too. There was a moment going down a hillside after sunset, where the grass you traveled through illuminated as you passed it. Turning around and seeing my trail glowing was a beautiful, memorable sight. Looking back, I wish Lost Ember had more of these moments that focused on the present, instead of the past of the characters. The music is beautifully done, and really helps elevate those powerful moments.
After waiting these several years for Lost Ember to come to fruition, I think it obviously could have been better, but do not think it was a failure. With more time and polish, this could have been something that stood out a bit more. As it stands, it may end up becoming lost in the pack, looking for it’s own spirit guide in the form of a few post launch patches. There is a lot of heart here, as well as great writing and direction, so I am hopeful for future Mooneye projects. If settling the past sounds like your kind of deal, Lost Ember is a well told adventure that is just not always well performed.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 6/10
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