If you say “videogame,” most people will think of a 2D-platformer. It’s one of the all-time classic videogame genres – think Super Mario, Sonic, Mega-Man, Metroid.
Stealth games are also extremely popular, with the Metal Gear series alone having shifted over 56 million copies since the 1980s.
Puzzle games have become quintessential to the modern casual gamer – did you know that of the 2.2 billion people who actively play mobile games in 2020, 57% play mostly puzzle games?
I wonder what happens when you mix a touch of 2D platformer, a pint of puzzle and a sprinkle of stealth into this cauldron?
Bubble bubble, toil and trouble. Whisper the magic words, and what do you get? You get Wildfire, a 2D-stealth-puzzle-platformer developed by Sneaky Bastards.
In Wildfire, you play as an unnamed villager who mysteriously acquires the power of the elements – fire, water and earth – becoming a witch. Before you know it, you have soldiers crashing through your village gates and trying to burn you at the stake (don’t you hate it when that happens?) When your village is reduced to ash and your neighbours are hauled off in chains by the orders of the Grand Duchess, you set out on a quest to find answers and take your revenge.
In spite of your impressive elemental power, Wildfire is a stealth game. However tempting it is to set your enemies to the flame, laughing maniacally as you do, your powers are most useful when they are used to evade, avoid and manipulate your foes.
The stealth gameplay is simple, easy to pick up and very forgiving, especially when it comes to enemies’ ability to spot you from line of sight alone. By and large, you’ll have a second or two after being sighted to find a hiding place before the enemy fully clocks onto your whereabouts. You will spend the majority of your time trying stay quiet as opposed to staying out of sight. Noise is your greatest enemy as soldiers are quickly alerted to your location if you sprint, throw anything, interact with an object or fall from too great a height.
Being a sidescroller, you’ll also rely heavily on your parkour and platforming skills to navigate the environments discreetly. Thankfully the control is fluid and reliable so manoeuvring your character feels effortless.
Each stage you play has one main objective and some optional objectives that you can attempt in order to earn “Spirit” which is used to purchase character upgrades. For example, the game will award you extra Spirit for completing a stage without having been caught, and without having killed any enemies. But if going the pacifist route isn’t really your style and you just want to see the world burn, there are so many creative ways to dispatch your enemies. You can set them on fire, push them to their deaths, freeze them in ice, drown them, land on top of them from a height, etc. The possibilities are as limitless as your thirst for mortal blood. You can always play through each stage twice: once where you use patience and problem-solving to intellectually best your foes, and again where you brutally slaughter every single enemy in the stage with your god-like elemental superpowers.
The Level Design
Like all good stealth games, Wildfire offers the player a variety of pathways they can take to complete the stage. The stages are open-planned and give the player plenty of room to manoeuvre – it’s very rare that I found myself cornered, or unable to move forward. Sometimes you’ll retreat into the sewers; other times you’ll cling to the ceiling on vines and swing across the stage like Tarzan. Obviously your creativity is limited somewhat by the fact that Wildfire is 2D, but I can say I never took the same route twice across multiple attempts.
Your elemental powers start off really simple at first. You can start fires, make the grass grow and chuck water at people. Big whoop. But, when you upgrade your elements, it’s a different story all together. You unlock some really unique and useful abilities that help you navigate the environment and survive the stage – for example, you can use earth to ensnare an enemy in place, or use water to make a bubble and float to high places, or using fire as a rocket to launch yourself into the air. There’s a great sense of progression in your power as a witch, seeing yourself go from a pathetic puddle splasher to a bona fide water-bending master.
The Enemy Variety
I’ll come out and say it – there are only four enemies in the entire game, excluding the boss. Light soldiers, archers, heavy soldiers and bobcats, all using exactly the same sprites and AI behaviour.
There are some small difference between enemies in their abilities – bobcats can smell you even if you’re hidden, and archers have a much wider field of view – but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the enemy variety in Wildfire is uninspiring to say the least. Thankfully, if you play the game it’s intended to be played, you won’t be interacting with the enemies much.
Videogames Make Me Happy concludes…
Though the 2D-stealth-platformer mashup had been executed successfully before in games like Mark of the Ninja, Wildfire still stands out as one of the kind. It blends stealth, platforming and light puzzle-solving together in a way that is creative and congruent; it’s whimsical 2D graphics bring some fantasy and magic into the stealth genre, which is usually quite dark and adult and takes itself very seriously. A thoroughly bewitching experience. I hope to see more from Sneaky Bastards in the near future.