Embers of Mirrim is a unique platformer in which you take on the role of a character that can split into two independently controlled “embers.”
Developer: Creative Bytes Studios
Publisher: Creative Bytes Studios
Release Date: May 23rd, 2017
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Embers of Mirrim is a platformer in which players take on the role of an ethereal creature named Mirrim that is actually two creatures that have been fused together by magic. Due to Mirrim’s state, it can split into two independently controlled “embers” and complete various challenges that would otherwise be impossible. The story follows Mirrim as it attempts to rid its world of the corruption that has befallen it. Players will be required to take on a variety of puzzles and other challenges, including chase scenes, boss fights, and areas that don’t allow you to shift into embers. Complete the challenges, find the source of the corruption, and save the world.
- Unique platforming gameplay – the main character, Mirrim, can split into two independent “embers” that are controlled simultaneously.
- Intense boss fights – each of the game’s four levels end with an intense boss fight against a massive boss monster.
- A fantastical setting – explore a unique fantasy world filled with fantastical creatures.
- Seems that this game hasn't made any headlines yet!
By Matt Chelen
As a fan of platformers, I’ve played a number of them over the years, but I don’t think that I’ve ever played anything quite like Embers of Mirrim. In it, you play as a cat/bird hybrid that is actually two cat/bird hybrids that have been fused together by what I can only assume is magic. As the player character is an amalgamation of two characters, the game boasts a unique system in which the player character can split into two “embers” which can be controlled independently using two joysticks on a controller. It’s an interesting idea, but I imagine that, like me, most of you are wondering how it worked out.
Embers of Mirrim begins with a story that makes little sense, and a world that is poorly explained, which is likely a symptom of the fact that the developers decided to forego dialogue or even expository text of any kind. What appears to be two rival packs of catbirds meet at a tower where a larger catbird with antlers shows them that something or other will fall from the sky and they will have to make their way back to the tower for some reason or other. Well, something or other begins falling from the sky and you take on the role of a catbird that is trying to make its way to the tower before subsequently taking on the role of another catbird that is trying to make its way to the tower. Once both catbirds have made it to the tower, you go through individual sequences in which each one obtains embers before finding that the larger catbird is no longer there. They then begin fighting, get fused together mid-fight, end up at the top of the tower, see a bright blue light out in the distance, and decide to adventure out towards the bright blue light.
Yes, that is actually how the story begins, including an accurate representation of exactly how much information the game gives you. The story is so poorly explained, in fact, that I didn’t begin piecing together exactly what was going on until I defeated the first boss, the aforementioned larger catbird with antlers, and the game told me that I could absorb the corruption from what it called the “Elder.” Having completed the game, I still have no idea of how the game world works or what exactly caused the two catbirds that comprise the main character to be fused together, but at least I know that the story involves corruption overtaking the land and your character tasking itself with ridding the world of said corruption.
Unfortunately, basic gameplay could also be better. There are two forms that the player character can take: the normal catbird form, which plays like your average platformer character, and “embers” form, in which the character splits into two orbs—one green orb and one purple orb—that can fly around independently of each other. While movement is smooth in embers form, as it simply involves two flying orbs, catbird form feels fairly unpolished in a number of ways. The exact jump arc makes jumping feel imprecise, largely trading distance for height, instead allowing the player to glide in order to travel farther. The animations feel stiff, leading to a more unpolished feel. There were also a number of times that I appeared to make jumps when I actually slammed into the side of the platforms that I was attempting to reach.
However, while movement in embers form is generally smooth, there is one key problem that I had with it. Whereas I generally did fine as long as the green ember, which is controlled by the left stick, was either to the left of the purple ember or above it, the moment that I had to swap them, I would become disoriented, failing miserably.
In Embers of Mirrim, there are specific zones that only a certain orb can pass through or only the catbird can pass through. In these zones, the embers float about indefinitely. Outside of those zones, they have to pass through floating diamonds of their color in order to keep from returning to catbird form. Only one has to keep moving at any one time, but, should the other not meet either of the aforementioned requirements, it will become stuck in place, which is significant because the embers must be within a certain distance of each other at all times. If both fail to meet said requirements, they will converge at the midpoint of their locations and return to catbird form. If there is something blocking their current midpoint, they will instead return to the last platform that the player landed on.
Because of the restrictions placed on embers form, there is little room for failure if an ember is outside of its zone. There’s also little room for taking complex sections slowly—not that you can anyways later on in the game when elements like exploding insects that follow set paths are introduced. While I could mostly wing it during certain disorienting segments that had specific ember zones that I could follow, moving one at a time when needed, the moment that I was required to move an ember out, my embers would end up floundering, moving in the wrong directions before returning to catbird form and falling into a pit of death. These moments make sense from a game design standpoint, and most of them follow simple patterns, but they bear mentioning because I imagine that I won’t be the only one to be disoriented by them.
There are, however, more glaring flaws. One of Embers of Mirrim’s greatest weaknesses is the fact that it is repetitive in all of the wrong ways. The game has a penchant for introducing new mechanics and then immediately forcing them down your throat by requiring you to make use of them multiple times within a single puzzle or action segment. It got to the point where I would dread the introduction of new mechanics because I knew that, rather than be put up against a nice blend of existing mechanics, I would be forced to sit through the same mechanic over and over in different environmental contexts.
This design philosophy underlines another key weakness: not a single part of the game felt like it utilized a good blend of mechanics. Say you have a set of ten gameplay elements that include interactive objects, traps, etc. Good game design is usually recognized as blending five or six elements at any one point. Embers of Mirrim often blends a mere two, maybe three at most. Because of this, you have long segments that involve, for example, entering a cannon of some sort after bumping into it with the right ember, aiming it towards the next one, firing yourself at it, and repeating upwards of ten times in a row. Along the way, you will dodge the same trap over and over, with the only variable element being the level design.
Part of me believes that the developers know that this wasn’t the best design philosophy, but did it anyways. At one point early on in the game, you are required to dodge through a number of trees filled with various obstacles as they fall off of a waterfall. This goes on far, far too long and I actually dreaded hearing the sound signaling the arrival of another tree by the time I reached the end of it. Upon completing the encounter, you get an achievement called something to the effect of “Too Many Trees,” acknowledging that perhaps there were far too many trees.
There were a few brief moments where you would have to launch out of a cannon, jump off of a platform that crumbles when you land on it, turn into embers form, and make it to an ember-specific zone that’s just barely within reach, but those moments were incredibly few and far between. Most of the game was designed around the idea of, for example, taking cannons and surrounding them with exploding insects or taking ember-specific zones and adding exploding insects or taking ember-specific zones and adding exploding insects and rocks that block your path. The end result is a number of puzzles and action segments that don’t feel particularly rewarding to complete.
It feels at times that the goal was to make each scene look epic without any regard for whether it felt epic to match. Sure, the second time that you’re being chased by corrupted roots looks intense, but the reality is that you’re largely just using stationary cannons to launch yourself to the top of the zone. You have very little effect on what’s happening short of making sure that you remember to move the few extra inches to the next cannon. Many of the game’s other encounters follow similar principles, which is perhaps why the moments that could have been particularly memorable and rewarding simply aren’t.
The sense that no individual part of the game is particularly rewarding to complete is accentuated by poor basic level design. Any part of a level in which there are no gameplay elements is designed to essentially be no more than a long hallway that you have to watch your character run through. Even more problematic, however, is the fact that many of the game’s various puzzles and action segments utilize nearly identical challenges, with only the smallest twist introduced. I can’t tell you how many times the game requires you to climb two small, perfectly aligned platforms one at a time by entering embers form and moving one ember around each side of the platform, converging back on the platform before moving to the next. The repetition grows tiresome fast, especially as you watch more mechanics get introduced, only to be used in conjunction with an exact challenge that you had faced before.
On its own, the game’s level design is tiresome, but it becomes downright frustrating when you consider that the game has basic mechanics that it appears to completely forget about regularly. Your character can dash/run/sprint, but you’ll likely forget that because you will rarely ever use it. I can count on one hand how many times I was required to dash to make a jump instead of simply run away during a chase scene. The game already had zones that made it so you couldn’t invalidate the dash by simply entering embers form and floating to the platform in question. The fact that a simple mechanic like dashing wasn’t utilized more often and in more varied ways is disconcerting. Similarly, you can “pounce,” which is basically Embers of Mirrim’s version of ground pounding, but it is only used to break open crystals containing armor, which can also be found simply floating around, or to damage bosses; it has no other uses. The crystals themselves feel fairly pointless, as the few that there actually were could have easily been replaced with floating armor pickups and very little would have changed other than no longer needing to stop the flow of play to break a crystal in order to get armor.
The frustrations culminate in a final boss fight that ultimately disregards all of the game’s mechanics in exchange for a single mechanic: move the embers far enough away from each other for the crosshair to change from a white diamond into a teal, x-like shape, then hold both triggers to slam them together, causing an explosion where they meet. I won’t spoil too much, but, much like many of the game’s other encounters, it looks epic as it’s happening, but it doesn’t feel particularly epic.
My playthrough of Embers of Mirrim ended in a mere three and a half hours. It would be easy to look back at the game and think that many of its individual moments appeared to be exciting as they happened, therefore they must have been, but many of those exact moments are characterized by simple gameplay in which the player has to do very little. The graphics are generally impressive and the idea behind the core gameplay is unique and admittedly interesting, but the few mechanics that the game has aren’t utilized in interesting ways. They’re utilized in slightly varied ways over the course of long segments of play that follow a strict, predictable, repetitive pattern. Even if you, like me, are a fan of platformers, I recommend skipping this one.