Gut Check: Wildfire

Disclaimer: It should be noted that the author backed this game on Kickstarter during its initial crowdfunding period back in April of 2015.

There will never be a time that I don’t find complete and utter joy in a game that allows me to mercilessly mess with my enemies by scaring the living hell out of them. Wildfire is a game that allows me to do just that, layering in some awesome elemental powers and great stealth mechanics, while bizarrely asking me to be a pacifist and not burn dudes alive.

In Wildfire you play as a young villager who through some cosmic coincidence develops the ability to harness the power of the flame, just not necessarily in the way you’d think. Hurling an orb of fire at an enemy doesn’t result in their instantaneous combustion, instead it just scares them into running in the opposite direction regardless of if there’s any ground ahead of them or not. Instead of directly attacking your foes, you’ll be burning a lot of vegetation, bridges, vines, barrels and of course, yourself, in the early goings of the game.

Wildfire wants you to control the battlefield more than it wants you to engage in battle, encouraging you to use your powers to help you slip by or terrify your enemies rather than just transforming them into a pile of ash. I know this because every level has several bonus objectives to strive for, including clear times, platforming challenges, detection and of course, body count. Every level encourages you to not kill or be noticed by anyone, and should you comply you’ll be rewarded with an upgrade currency that allows you to power up your character in a few different ways.

I don’t love how the game heavily encourages that you don’t use your magic fire powers for murdering, and while it never outright stops you, Wildfire does make killing someone incredibly difficult. You’re not just going to launch a fireball at someone and watch them go up in flames, Wildfire instead opts for more of a sustained effect kind of damage. For instance, every character has a temperature gauge that once filled up, will start the burning process that will eventually kill them unless they throw themselves in a body of water. Just like your character has a chance to survive a magic incident, so do your enemies.

Despite that little wrinkle though, Wildfire is a blast to play because it’s constantly encouraging you to think outside of the box in almost every scenario it places you in. While Wildfire gives you control over fire, it doesn’t let you manifest flames out of thin air, requiring you to pull it from an existing source like a bonfire. From there you can launch a blast at some brush and watch it ignite, thus allowing you to pull more fire from there. It seems frustrating at first, but it makes sense when you recognize the puzzle-like nature of the level design and the objectives you’re given.

Like I mentioned in the intro, I really enjoy being able to mess with the enemies who are on patrol in the area and mentally torment them until they run screaming off of the nearest cliff. So far I’ve only been able to accomplish this by starting a fire at just the right place and time, but I assume there will be more ways to dispatch your enemies as you progress further in the game and upgrade your abilities. UPDATE: There totally are!

There are altars in every level depicting someone holding a bowl in their hands, and if you launch a fireball or any other element in there, you receive an upgrade point which you can spend to unlock new abilities for whichever element you donated. There is another currency that is tied to level objectives, rewarding you for completing the level in a certain amount of time, not reloading a checkpoint or not killing anyone. This currency allows you to upgrade how you interact with the checkpoints in the world, with the first upgrades being ones that refill your health when you touch it, and another that allows you to pull a flame from the checkpoint itself.

Wildfire is a really cool stealth game that let’s you play around with fire and how it interacts with the environment around you, which is what drew me to it in the first place. In my brief time with it I’ve enjoyed so much of the game, from its art style to its fire-bending mechanics. While I’m not too thrilled about how it really wants you to be a pacifist and not burn your enemies alive, I don’t hold that against the game. If anything, these restrictions have made me plan out my next few moves in order to send one of the guards screaming off a platform and into a pit of spikes.

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