Candle Route is a unique and colourful puzzle game starring Sparky, a plucky, anthropomorphic flame charged with bringing light to Crayon Castle before night comes around. The adventure that follows feels a bit like a cross between ChuChu Rocket!, mini-golf, and being a mother duck; most importantly it's beautiful, original and fun, and makes for a great pick-up-and-play puzzler.
Candle Route burns the wick at both ends with two distinct play modes (rather unimaginatively labeled “Side A” and “Side B”), and though they share levels and a basic premise — pick up matches, drop them off elsewhere in the stage — they play like completely different games. In Side A, your goal is to manoeuvre around the grid-based, maze-like stages, amassing a following of matches and using them to light up candles around the level — light all the candles and you clear the stage. The catch is that you have a limited number of moves to work with before you burn out, so the puzzle is in choosing your path wisely.
You start each stage with a set number of flags, representing the number of moves available. Tap a grid tile and a dotted-line appears, showing the route Sparky plans to take, which is especially important because Candle Route, as the name suggests, is as much about the journey as the destination: on the way to the candles you'll need to first pick up matches from adjacent tiles, as well as open up any treasure boxes and trigger environmental features you might meet. Once you have your flag placed where you want it, a tap of the “Walk” button will set the little flame in motion.
The game uses a par system, like golf, with an ideal number of flags to shoot for in each stage. Clearing a stage using only one flag will net you a “Hole in One”, while one under or one over par will result in a “Birdie” or a “Bogey”, respectively. Having a limited number of moves makes lighting Crayon Castle more difficult than it first sounds, and it takes careful planning to solve the puzzles at or under par. Several new gameplay twists are introduced gradually as well, from directional panels that alter your path, dynamite that can help clear the way, puddles that need to be evaporated by nearby candles, and more. These gameplay additions — along with a graphical and audio refresh every ten levels or so — keep things feeling fresh, and means there's always something to look forward to.
Candle Route's other mode, Side B, plays like a version of ChuChu Rocket! and has you controlling your character directly, instead of via arrow pads. It shares the same gridded-maze levels with the Side A mode, but this time you move Sparky with the D-pad, playing Pied Piper to errant matchsticks, delivering them to rocket ships placed throughout the level and sending them flying up to the great matchbox in the sky. The catch here is that your view is restricted to a small spotlight around Sparky provided by his natural luminescence, and the rest of the stage remains blacked out. It's a time attack mode, so you'll be racing around trying to beat a time for each level (some as short as ten seconds!), and with every rocket you send off your movement gets a significant speed boost. It's lots of fun and a substantial change of pace from the methodical puzzles of Side A. It's also worth noting that you have to first clear each stage in Side A to unlock it in Side B, so those more excited about playing the action-oriented puzzles will still have to get to grips with the former.
Graphically, Candle Route is a beautifully stylized affair, with a colourful, scribbled crayon-on-paper look that resembles a child's drawing come to life. While you spend most of your time looking at the zoomed-out view on the touch screen, it's worthwhile glancing up to the top screen once you set Sparky off on his course; the art and animations make it a pleasure to watch it all unfold up close in the zoomed-in view. Little touches, like seeing rather despondent-looking candles light up with both flame and smiles on successful matchstick delivery, or the notebook-style title screen, add heaps of personality to the experience.
The musical score is a great fit and surprisingly varied as well, with bouncy, sparsely instrumented piano adding an almost Kirby's Epic Yarn-flavour to the soundtrack. The individual tracks hold up well to repeated listening, and you might even catch yourself humming along after a few rounds – a very good sign in a puzzle game.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Candle Route is how much content the developers managed to pack into this 200 Point title: there are more than 80 stages in each mode, and since Side A and Side B are essentially two different games, that's over 160 unique stages – not including the plethora of hidden levels that are unlocked as you collect stars along the way. Sure, each of those 160+ puzzles could take less than a minute if you knew exactly what you were doing, and you could technically blow through all the stages in a few hours — but the fact is, you won't. This is a game that lends itself to short play of a couple of puzzles at a time, not hour-long candle-lighting sessions; precisely what makes it such a great fit for your DSiWare menu. It can also get pretty difficult, especially if you're trying to three-star the Side A levels by going for treasure chests and under-par scores. It's also notable that FUN UNIT wisely decided to include a hint system, which can be activated at any time with the X button and will show you where to plant the first and/or second flag. It's a godsend when you get stuck, and revealing only the first flag is a good way to avoid frustration while still getting a real sense of accomplishment at the end of the puzzle.
Candle Route combines an original premise with a fantastic visual style, two distinct types of gameplay, and a staggering amount of content for a 200 Point DSiWare release. Both game modes are fun in their own right, and the two combined are a potent, portable combo of brain-teasing puzzles and reflex-testing action. High score hunting, lots of unlockable levels, and the fact that there's always more than one way to solve a stage also add a good deal of replay value. Lighting up Crayon Castle is a labour of love, and puzzle fans will find a lot to love here.