Is the video game medium considered art? That’s a question that will get some incredibly different responses depending on who you ask, and it can be a rather difficult one to answer. Simple games such as Pac-Man are made purely for raw entertainment purposes, but then there are games made with a bit more heart at their centre, invoking more of an emotional response from the player. Embers Of Mirrim is one such game, and while it’s only average when it comes to its gameplay, the mark it leaves on you artistically is something much more substantial.
Embers Of Mirrim starts off with an interesting prelude, showcasing two rival herds of catbeasts congregating in a great crystal spire, where they are warned of an impending apocalypse. After this you’re taught the controls by playing as two young members of these tribes, who find their way to the spire and are joined to create a hybrid catbeast that has the power to avert the cataclysm. All of this is told through silent cutscenes, but the story is still remarkably easy to follow, and even manages to carry a fair bit of emotion which is carried consistently into gameplay.
On the surface, Mirrim is a simple puzzle-platformer, but there’s more here than one might think from the outset. As you traverse the snowy and fantastical landscapes, you’ll be faced with puzzles that require you to split up into 'embers' to proceed. This entails simultaneously controlling two separate orbs of light with each analog stick, often on mirroring routes. It’s taxing on the brain in strange ways, but becomes manageable as the game eases you into gradually more difficult puzzles.
At first, you’ll simply be asked to guide the orbs of light from one place to another without running out of energy, but later on, new elements are introduced that add additional dimensions to puzzles. Each orb bestows unique properties on the things it comes into contact with, such as a mushroom that either grows a platform or becomes a bounce pad depending on which orb most recently touched it. New elements are introduced at a bit of a sluggish pace, which can lead to some puzzle types to seem a bit long, but there’s plenty of diversity in ideas the more you stick with the story.
Aside from these puzzles, there’s some platforming sections that will test your technical prowess a bit more, asking you to smartly use the run, glide and pounce moves to find the way forward. These bits are generally pretty straightforward, particularly in the repetitive boss fights, but they’re nicely interspersed throughout the campaign to break up the puzzling action and add in some needed gameplay variety. You likely won’t remember Mirrim for the platforming gauntlets that it offers, but you’ll nonetheless be thankful that they're there, as the dual control puzzles alone aren’t quite enough to carry this as a complete package.
Though the puzzles themselves are rarely too difficult, they can sometimes become an exercise in patience as you work to get it just right. Though Mirrim is fortunately quite forgiving with checkpoints, promptly respawning you at the start of failed puzzles, it can be a bit frustrating when the game mechanics insist that you didn’t quite clear an obstacle, necessitating that you retry the entire puzzle. Considering that progress is abruptly halted until you complete the puzzle just about perfectly, this can lead to irritating bottlenecks in gameplay that hamper the overall flow of the game.
It’s a bit of a shame, too, because Mirrim absolutely nails its atmosphere. Whether you’re running through silent, snowy forests or deep caves illuminated by azure lights, there’s a certain air of verdant serenity that’s seldom invoked in gaming. This is all backed by an excellent soundtrack that adds to the dreamlike atmosphere with plenty of pianos and strings to provide a morose, yet hopeful tone to things. This is one of those few games that really manages to capture one’s imagination; the pull of this imaginary world becoming ever stronger as you delve deeper into exploring it.
The total story should realistically only take a few hours to clear, although there’s some collectible content along the way for those who have to see everything. Mirrim is divided into chapters, in which a handful of Glyphs - optional puzzles that are hidden off the beaten path - can be found that require you to solve a simple puzzle to complete them. In later chapters, there are also some fellow catbeasts that have been corrupted by the coming apocalypse, which you can save if you find them. Although these little extras feel a bit tacked on, they nonetheless help to fill out the complete package with a some extra value.
All told, Embers Of Mirrim is a delightful fantasy adventure with only a few notable flaws. It may be a bit on the short side and have some jarring bottlenecks that pull you out of your enjoyment, but it’s a beautiful game to experience from an artistic standpoint. We would recommend it to anyone who has an appreciation for art in gaming form. Although the gameplay sometimes misses that mark, Mirrim nonetheless stands as a worthy experience for those that are looking to try something a little more thoughtful.