Lost Ember review for PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Mooneye Studios
Developer: Mooneye Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

Lost Ember is the second animal-based game I?ve played recently, and I?ve got to say: it?s a pretty distant second in terms of quality, too.

The first, Spirit of the North, was a short puzzle/exploration game where you played as a fox trying to find its lost love. While I was mostly indifferent to it as I was playing it, now that I?ve played Lost Ember, it?s raised substantially in my estimation.

A big reason for this: Spirit of the North was entirely wordless, whereas Lost Ember is not. I can?t say that the addition of dialogue between a wolf and its spirit guide does anything as far as advancing the story, even if it lays everything out — about the wolf exploring its past lives — much more clearly. In fact, if anything, it makes the whole thing seem pretty cheesy. There?s a lot to be said for showing rather than telling, and I?ve never seen that illustrated as well is it is here. Whatever emotion that is to be wrung out of a soul exploring the heartbreak of its past lives loses a lot of its power when you have a glowing ball and a wolf talking over it.

Mind you, even if Lost Ember didn?t spoil its emotional impact with lousy dialogue, it probably would have done so with the many technical issues that plague the game. First and foremost: it really struggles to run properly. Numerous times the game would freeze up for a few seconds as it tried valiantly to show the hero — be it wolf, duck, hummingbird, or whatever other animals you can possess (more on that in a moment) — running or jumping or flying through the air, which really didn?t help as far as keeping me engaged in the action. In fact, I?d say that those glitches killed whatever sense of immersion was left after most of it was killed off by the crummy voice-acting.

Lost Ember?s gameplay also leaves a little to be desired. You move across the landscape by jumping from animal soul to animal soul; most of the time you?re a wolf, but, depending on the needs of the plot, you can possess wombats, or fish, or birds, or whatever else will help you squeeze through tight spots or fly across huge gaps. This mostly works pretty well, but some animals control better than others: while the wombats are a breeze to control, for example, the ducks can?t seem to fly to save their lives, while the fish were prone to flopping up on the shore and dying. Admittedly, some of this may have been my fault, but it doesn?t speak well of the game?s controls that you occasionally feel like you?re fighting with them to do what you need to do.

It also doesn?t speak well of the game that it sometimes traps you in a death cycle. There were a couple of points where I accidentally ran over a sudden steep cliff or tumbled down a hill, and rather than setting me back up in a spot where I could avoid such mistakes, the game plopped me down somewhere else where I?d fall to my death again. Eventually I?d find some way to get out of the loop, but it still made for a couple of frustrating moments.

Then again, the whole game is full of frustrating moments. Lost Ember has a neat idea behind it, and I feel like it could have been done fairly well with a few tweaks. Absent those tweaks, however, there?s really not a lot to recommend here.

Mooneye Studios provided us with a Lost Ember PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: C-