It’s become something of a joke for game journalists to refer to things as “The Dark Souls of [Insert Genre Here]” but with Blue Fire I found myself in the rather peculiar position of genuinely referring to this game as “The Dark Souls of 3D Platformers.” Not purely because of its difficulty, which is definitely there, make no mistake, but because that truly feels like the vibe that Robi Studios were going for when crafting the world and atmosphere known as Penumbra.
Blue Fire is a 3D platformer, but unlike your Mario, A Hat in Time or New Super Lucky’s Tale, which all feature bright and colorful worlds, this one opens up in a dark and seemingly empty castle. There are bottomless pits, weird glowing goo that will hurt you if you touch it and monsters born from darkness that you’ll need to use your dual blades to fight off.
The atmosphere has this fantastic blend of dark and foreboding, but also strangely inviting and comfortable. The player character, a tiny little masked swordsman known as Umbra, is super adorable and only starts out with a couple of moves in his arsenal. You will eventually unlock more like double jumps and spin attacks to increase your mobility and offensive capabilities, but you may find yourself feeling a bit powerless in the beginning. The most useful move you start out with that will remain a go to option for you throughout the entire experience is the dash. Umbra can do a short or lengthy dash in any direction on the ground or in the air and the distance depends on how long you hold down the button. Mastering this dash is incredibly important for traversal and dodging certain enemy attacks in high stakes combat situations, but it does one thing in particular that I think can’t be understated; it makes Blue Fire fun. For me, one of the most important aspects in any 3D platformer is that the very act of movement needs to be enjoyable, and this one mechanic is an absolute blast to use. Other techniques you’ll learn throughout definitely help you backtrack through the massive hub area and unlock new locations and secrets, but the dash is what can easily suck players in from the start. It’s snappy, it’s satisfying and it’s a necessity to use to conquer early and late game challenges.
Much of Blue Fire operates like a 3D Metroidvania title. As you explore the castle, you’ll find several locked doors or other areas you can’t get to just yet, but as you earn new abilities ranging from combat skills to even learning new reaction abilities from statues with afros, there are tons of secrets to uncover and new areas to explore.
Where Blue Fire’s flames shine brightest in my eyes are the Voids. These are separate areas that serve as purely platforming challenges, similar to certain stages in Super Mario Sunshine. Voids are stand alone challenges filled with floating platforms that test your platforming skills. A truly skilled player might be able to rush right through one of these without a single death, but if you don’t, the consequences are minimal. Each Void has a certain number of collectibles you need to pick up. If you die, you restart from the beginning of the area, but keep what you’ve already grabbed.
Blue Fire does a really nice job with these sections because it’s a great blend of challenging but forgiving. With how quickly you respawn it creates a really nice sense of “Okay, this time I’ll get it.” Because no matter how many times I died (it was a lot) I never once felt like it was a problem with the game. It always felt like I did something wrong. Maybe I dashed too early or held the button down for too long. No matter how many times I messed up, Blue Fire was quick to forgive and allow me to have another go at it, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you do achieve that one perfect start to finish run.
While the Voids are fun, I’m really glad that Blue Fire doesn’t carry itself on them. They’re fun challenges to tackle, but don’t feel like they’d hold up the title on their own. The main world itself and the concepts of exploration are what help players most feel like they’re making progress. It’s hard for me not to be charmed by the world of Penumbra because on one hand it has that Dark Souls-esque sense of bleakness and atmosphere, but on the other hand you will occasionally run into NPCs that feel right at home in one of the goofier, more light-hearted platformers. There’s one guy you meet pretty early on that’s just really into elevators.
A game I’ve seen Blue Fire compared to a lot is something along the lines of Hollow Knight, and I definitely see where that comparison comes from. Blue Fire has a bit more emphasis on the 3D platforming side of things and a bit less on combat. For starters, there aren’t nearly as many bosses in Blue Fire, which I think works because the combat, while fast paced and fluid, never really felt like Blue Fire’s strong suit. It works perfectly fine, and it feels good to dodge an enemy attack before unleashing a combo of your own on them, but it was never what I remember enjoying the most once I'd stepped away from the game.
As a 3D platformer, there are tons of collectibles in Blue Fire. You can find new weapons for Umbra, though the game utilizes more of an RPG approach to these, which I didn’t really like. The weapons all have noticeably different appearances, but because this one I just grabbed has the higher number than my previous one, I may as well use it rather than picking the one that I actually like. There are also Spirits you can find or buy that provide useful passive abilities like increased movement speed or making defeated foes drop additional money. While I wouldn’t describe Blue Fire as a collect-a-thon, there is definitely a lot of stuff to search for and I think it’s rewarding to get what you can.
Overall, Blue Fire is a solid experience. The world is memorable, the 3D platforming sections are addictive and satisfying and it just feels like a really well done take on the genre as a whole. If you’re a fan of 3D platformers but are looking for a different aesthetic to shake up what we’re generally accustomed to, Blue Fire might just be the game for you.
John reviewed Blue Fire on Steam with a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on the Nintendo Switch