Kum-BYE-ya my stuff, kum-bye-ya…
Bonfire Peaks is consistently coupled with the sound and light of a crackling campfire that immediately warms me as I nestle into my sofa for what I anticipate to be an incredibly relaxing 3D puzzle game. I was right, to a degree.
Published by Draknek and created by Corey Martin, Bonfire Peaks is a puzzle game all about closure. You play as an unnamed character who has seemingly left behind the life he used to live and is planning a refresh of some kind, and doing that, he must “burn his things.” This is the premise of each puzzle. You have a box of stuff, and you must navigate this box to the firepit in the level by overcoming the challenge ahead of you within that particular stage.
Each puzzle is selected by sitting beside a campfire. Once the puzzle has been completed, the campfire ignites, and you are rewarded with a box. These boxes are used in the overworld to assist in scaling the mountain that your character has found himself on. Yes, that’s right, the “puzzle select screen” is also a puzzle!
Each stage has a unique element and requires learning and remembering several mechanics. The only actions you have at your disposal are picking up boxes and putting them down. You can pivot and move forwards and backwards—no sidestepping. Sometimes obstacles will be in your path where you cannot pivot to one side while holding a box, so you’ll have to think of another way. The game does a great job of introducing and teaching these simple mechanics early on. However, as the game progresses to later and more challenging levels, some newer elements can become frustrating to pick up. For example, the game will teach you that long boxes can be used to build staircase bridges; however, on a level shortly after, these boxes aren’t used that way. Despite my many attempts to build a bridge, I admitted defeat before returning and eventually completing the level.
The controls are simple to pick up and remember. The A button picks up and drops boxes, B is used to undo, X to reset, and the directional buttons to move and pivot. The movement buttons are practical in theory, but they are overwhelmingly frustrating in practice. If you are facing down and press up, your character will walk backwards. This is the same if they are facing left and you press right—which does make sense—and don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the controls, but I found myself inputting the wrong movements at some crucial times, which leads to a lot of frustration. Yes, there is an undo button, which I am thankful for, but I did not think I’d be using it this often.
Another gripe that I had during my time with Bonfire Peaks is the lack of hints when you are well and truly stumped on a puzzle. The PlayStation version has a built-in hints system; however, this is absent in the Nintendo Switch version. Of course, it is a much more rewarding experience to solve these levels independently. That said, a little nudge in the right direction or the option for help would have been nice.
One of the strongest aspects of Bonfire Peaks is the 3D pixel visuals and the feeling that it invokes the longer you spend time with the main character. When you don’t move for a short time or select A when not in front of a box, the unnamed character will sit down with his knees close to his chest. It’s oddly comforting to watch this, but also sad. This simple action coupled with nothing but the sound of a crackling fire highlights the loneliness and isolation of this character. Throughout the overworld, too, you are shown what looks to be memories of this man’s past—an old car, the remains of a party—and as he ascends the mountain, he leaves these memories behind. It’s so simple but wonderfully executed.
Bonfire Peaks is a stunning game that I feel will attract many for its aesthetic alone. A large portion of those will stay for the gameplay, but I can fully relate to players who become frustrated with the movement controls and difficulty spike later on. Aside from the gameplay grumps, the world in which Corey Martin has created tells an isolated yet beautiful tale of a man looking for closure by burning his things, and I am glad I got to experience this.