Blue Flame is a top-down action game where you play as a pyromancer. Dark Souls is an obvious source of inspiration, but it has a fresh take on the genre that elevates it past the point of being a shameless ripoff.
Gameplay – Souls-like Elements
Blue Flame doesn’t have the class variety that a game like Dark Souls has. Instead, you are forced to play as a mage. Given the indie nature of the game and its obviously low budget, it makes sense to focus on making one satisfying class rather than a dozen mediocre ones. Blue Flame also doesn’t have stat upgrades or a complex stat system in general. You get more health and stamina as you defeat bosses, but there isn’t an experience system that allows you to grind up your stats when you get stuck. You can grind health potions which makes combat a lot more manageable if you are struggling. Somewhat confusingly, there doesn’t seem to be a limit on the number of potions you can stockpile. You get a minimum amount when you die or use a bonfire, but it can go well beyond that, to at least 20, making some boss fights laughably easy. This mechanic would have worked better as a difficulty setting, allowing casual players to hoard potions to use when they get stuck while also limiting veteran players to help preserve the game’s difficulty. As it stands, you are forced to play suboptimally if you want a challenge.
The game’s bonfire system is also a bit of a headscratcher, although this might be due to the ubiquitous nature of Dark Souls bonfire mechanics. There’s no fast travel, so bonfires only function as respawn points. Activating them also reduces your maximum mana, making it more difficult to cast multiple spells in a short time. It’s an interesting idea but ultimately feels like a failed experiment. If executed better, it could force you to decide between checkpoints, which are only useful when you die, and mana, which helps you avoid death. Instead, it feels like a trap mechanic because of how easily it can cripple your combat ability. The only way to remove the mana loss is to defeat a boss, but if you have a small mana bar, it can make fights too difficult, even for talented players.
Gameplay – Combat
Combat is based on using your variety of spells while avoiding hits with dodges. Dodging gives invincibility frames, allowing you to play aggressively and use short-range spells with high damage. This requires decent reaction time and mechanical skill, but a long-range, careful playstyle works just as well without being as challenging. Due to the prevalence of AI pathing issues, combat can occasionally become boring, especially if it happens in a boss fight. Outside of these bugs, most boss fights are enjoyable and unique. Nearly every boss has multiple phases where they change up their tactics but retain their combat style. Sometimes, you are given hints that tease what the next boss fight might entail, but they are all well designed, both in gameplay and visual design. There are times where the game would benefit from being more explicit about its mechanics, but it typically works out. The one instance that hurt the game for me was in the catacombs level where ghosts attack you. I may have missed the dialogue where ghost mechanics were explained, but I couldn’t figure out if they were supposed to be killable or not. Even after beating the level, I was still unsure.
Gameplay – Level Design
Levels are designed to be open, interconnected areas that let you explore on your own terms. The central issue with this design choice is that the bonfire system actively contradicts playing in an open world. You need to play the game linearly in order to unlock new spells and improve your health and stamina. It feels like Blue Flame was made open world because that’s how Dark Souls does it, rather than being done because the game is designed around it. The lack of a map lends itself to open-world exploration, but it falls flat when you have to do each boss fight in a relatively specific order.
Even though world design is lacking, the individual levels are designed well and keep the game interesting. Most feature some interactive elements, such as a maze level that allows you to light lamps to keep track of where you are going or a forest level with fallen trees that you can burn. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it adds some flavor and character to an otherwise barebones game.
Blue Flame varies wildly in its presentation quality, indicative of a low-budget indie game. Some animations, especially “cutscene” animations like opening a gate, look fantastic and extremely polished. They are smooth and elegant, even though they are pixel art. Combat animations are less polished, but still hold up well, excluding the running animation, which has strides that seem too long, almost in slow-motion. When running backward, the animation is played in reverse and looks even more awkward.
The environments look fine but can get repetitive for certain areas, especially outdoor sections. Thankfully, a few maps have interesting gimmicks to make them stand out, like the living forest with moving trees. Graphically, the game reuses plenty of assets, but the quality is high enough that it’s excusable.
Music is almost nonexistent, leaving the sound effects to do all the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the sound effects are only passable and don’t add much to the game’s disappointing soundscape. Some effects get played so often that it’s almost better to play the game muted.
Storytelling in Blue Flame revolves around short conversations with NPCs. You come across only a handful of them in the entire game, so story elements are minimal at best. The basic premise is that of a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. It’s interesting and fits well with the gameplay. You don’t fight hordes of enemies because it wouldn’t make sense given the setting. The world looks barren with a grim atmosphere. The plot isn’t particularly engaging and is often forgettable, but the writing is passable. It does its job and nothing more. There are a few easter eggs that feel really out of place and abruptly pull you out of the world. Overall, the story and worldbuilding are fine for a game focusing mostly on combat mechanics.
The technical side of Blue Flame is probably its weakest. Most of the game is mediocre at worst, great at best. Bugs and general coding issues are the biggest drawbacks, likely stemming from limited development time or a lack of experience. There was only one “game-breaking” issue, and the developer quickly resolved it after submitting a bug report. The majority of issues involved enemies becoming stuck, either from their attack animations ending outside of the game area or their pathing getting stuck on an obstacle. This ruined one boss fight because it couldn’t attack me. There were also a handful of significant frame drops in which the game began running like a slide show. It didn’t cause any real issues; it was just a recurring annoyance. Outside of these bugs, the game ran smoothly, although a budget PC may have issues.
Blue Flame is a good game for players that enjoy challenging top-down action games and don’t mind a lack of storytelling. It’s rough around the edges, lacking the polish of a game from an established studio, but it’s clearly made by a fan of games like this, and it has plenty of character. The combat can get repetitive, but the varied boss designs help alleviate it. The game also looks exceptional for a cheap indie title. I still wouldn’t recommend Blue Flame to everyone, but it’s a short and sweet action game that’s reasonably well executed for the price. It’s worth a shot if the genre interests you, but it’s not a “can’t miss” game.