Gnomes get no respect. This is usually because they don’t do anything but hang out in your garden and watch as rabbits chow down on your veggies. But the one in Emberwind– a short, stout, dwarf-like creature called Kindle Elderwood– is a gnome who knows how to get things done. He’s the guardian of the town of Grendale which, as the game opens, comes under attack by a horde of goblins. With you guiding his way, it’s Kindle to the rescue.
To slay the goblin army, you’re armed with a staff and a number of moves and combos. The fighting is mostly enjoyable, although it becomes repetitive before too long. Infinite goblins spill out of enemy barrels until you hack the barrels to pieces, so you’ll often find yourself facing off against dozens of identical sprites, each of which can withstand several whacks of your staff.
The amount of content in the game is huge, and the graphics look phenomenal. Finely detailed and vibrantly colored, the art particularly shines if you’re playing on a Retina display device. They’re almost too detailed, in fact, because the short green shrubbery on the ground sometimes obscures the short green goblins you’re supposed to annihilate with your staff. In addition, the gameplay is nicely varied, with a broad array of level objectives and impressive boss battles.
But there’s one game-wrecking problem in Emberwind: the controls. Oh, the controls. Who knew that one aspect of a game could be messed up in so many ways? First, the buttons are placed higher than they are in most other iPhone games, which requires some getting used to. They’re also tiny: the analog stick is easy to miss when you tap at it, and the jump and attack buttons are positively microscopic. Accidentally tap outside of the buttons’ circles– which happens all the time– and your command won’t register, often spelling death.
Ducking is for sissies.
Making matters worse, the levels are big, and you often have to jump off high ledges into an unknown landscape below that may or may not contain pits. Accidental instant deaths occur frequently, so it’s best to play in a padded room to protect your iPhone from breaking when you throw it. In fact, if you play the game long enough the cheap deaths might drive you crazy, in which case you’ll end up in a padded room anyway. As a sort of consolation for the poor controls and unfair deaths, Emberwind gives you unlimited lives and fairly frequent checkpoints. These are much appreciated, but they’re too little too late.
Emberwind for iOS is a disappointing game. It’s a unique, charming, and gorgeous, but you’ll probably be too busy fighting against the crummy controls to appreciate it. If you like platformers or jolly beat-‘em-ups, you should play the game– but not on the iPhone if you can help it. Thankfully, it’s also available for the PC and Mac.