Developer: Fun Unit, Inc.
Price: $3.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★★
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

It’s always great to find a hidden gem on the App Store. While browsing for games, this one caught my eye simply because of its strange name. Route Candle’s art style reminds one of a strange dream in which Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet has been set aflame and trapped somewhere in the world of Crayon Physics. While this app doesn’t offer the physics from either of those fan favorites, it does provide a creative little puzzler that fans of the puzzle genre will definitely appreciate.

img_00055Route Candle is kind of like playing golf with fire in a dungeon. Only instead of holes you light candles, and instead of being a golfer, you’re a flame. Oh, and your useful little companions are matches. Sorry, I’ll try to be a little more straightforward.

The object of Route Candle is to collect enough matches to light every candle on each level. To collect a match, walk past them. Within each level you have a set number of moves. You also have a set par for each level and can boost your score by staying under it. You simply place flags on any blank square, press go and the Flame will walk directly to it. Yes, directly, that’s important. Fire is an efficient phenomenon. Not one for fancy maneuvers, it tends to take the path of least resistance. Your little Flame in Route Candle is no different. When you select a square, he will select the shortest route to the flag, but, if there are two equally short routes he’ll choose the one with the least amount of turns. In spite of this direct approach, the Flame won’t stop on a special square (e.g. one with matches, the candle lighting square, directional squares, etc.), instead he has to walk over or past them. If you direct him in the opposite direction, he’ll do a u-turn instead of just turning around. If you use up your turns, your matches and your Flame fizzle and die with a sad, little frown.

The first several levels don’t deviate from this formula. At this point it’s pretty easy, cute and entertaining, and you can have some fun just trying to trim down your number of used flags. But Route Candle really begins to get interesting when additional squares with special properties are added to the levels. With 50 levels of increasing difficulty, I’m pretty sure I’ll get stuck soon.

I had played along pretty quickly through the first dozen levels when I was suddenly faced with directional labels that can reverse or change the Flame’s direction in mid-route. At first, I buckled down and began analyzing things with a malicious eye, assuming that the arrows would be a bane to my candle-lighting escapades. My attitude quickly changed, however, when I dropped a flag in the wrong place and the Flame happily walked around changing directions four or five times, collected all the matches and lit both candles in a single move. I can’t describe how amazingly fun that moment was, but I was hooked from that moment forward. A lot of these little quirks, like his penchant for u-turns, can alternately frustrate or be used to your advantage. This takes the concept from a simple puzzle game to a cute, rewarding experience.

img_00066The game goes on to add pitfalls (no, your cute, little character doesn’t fall to his death, he just can’t go back that way), puddles, switches that trap your matches and bombs that block your path.

I’m really enjoying the game and would recommend it to puzzle fans. It may not fit the interest of some and some may balk at the price tag. Some may not like the name. Personally, I think it should have a sequel called Phantom of the Candle Opera, but that’s just because I have a fixation on puns. I suppose the music, as with a lot of games, does get annoying after a while. It’s hard to criticize something with this much care put into its creation. I’m sure I’ll find it to be too short… but isn’t that usually the case with games you really enjoy?

Did I mention that the art is really fun and well done? It is. The pictures included with this review will help you get an idea, but the animation has a very nice feel that isn’t communicated. The crayon scribbling over objects like the Flame, candles and matches moves as if each frame of animation was scribbled separately. For more serious gamers, think of a 32 bit version of Valkyrie Chronicles. Little things, like badly placed flags spinning away frantically, show the love that was put into this title. I’m including a video that I wish displayed just the iPhone screen and no extraneous text:

I’ve never really been a pyromaniac and I’ve never really enjoyed golf. Somehow Route Candle unlocked my enthusiasm with a combination of both. Check out the Route Candle site. While I’m not a huge fan of flash sites, this one is very well put together. The developer really seems to have taken the whole project an extra mile.

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