Review: The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands05 Apr 2018 0
Review: The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands
Released 07 Mar 2018
One of the most surprising mobile successes was the minimalist clicker sim/text-adventure A Dark Room, which captured the zeitgeist for retro and narrative games and married it to the compulsive need to check one's phone. A Dark Room had the player beginning from the titular room with nothing but a fire and expanding into some unsettling places. The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands has a clear heritage from that classic, but evocative text descriptions have been replaced with trendy graphics, and the gameplay has been simplified.
The Bonfire's graphics have a flat, Adobe Flash style inspired by Alto's Adventure, but it lacks that other game's character. Alto and his friends had various lifelike (if tiny) reactions to their world, the settlers in The Bonfire mostly shuffle about. It's cute to watch your little settlers move around, changing their appearance with their jobs and equipment, but there's not much life there. Another example; the combat lacks dynamism, with sword arms moving like paper dolls on strings. The game does have its moments of beauty, and clearly a lot of care has been taken to build the village background you will spend most of the game staring at.
Controls are all handled in simple buttons at the bottom of the screen, which seem elegant at first but becomes unwieldy as more and more options are made available. By the end of the game, you will be swiping left and right like you're trying to find a Tinder date before last call. Navigating several menu trees is necessary to carry out some functions like crafting and equipping gear on your settlers, and you'll have to navigate in and out of the menus several times for each one. If you want to try to optimise production by putting settlers with character traits like 'hardworking' in charge of mining, you might want to keep a notepad handy to keep track of who's doing what and what they need to do their best at it. A game with a less rigid GUI would let you look at work assignments and equipment on a chart with some nice drag-and-drop functions.
There's a nice loop of building new structures; optimising their use, protecting them from harm, and then gaining the resources to build the next structure makes the game hard to put down. Of course, you always want to try out the new gear you can craft or see what happens when you task one of your settlers to take on a new job. New developments also result in some changes to gameplay, with new tasks and challenges to take on. The game starts with tapping on buttons to perform tasks yourself, but once you've attracted some settlers and outfitted them they quickly outpace the protagonists' meagre skills, leaving you time to organise everyone's jobs and gear. It's fun to figure out what the next step is to advance your settlement, and later you also get to do a little dungeoneering.
That said, the pace of the game is not ideal. There's not quite enough to do to make it an in-depth sim game, but too much attention is required to call it a clicker. You can leave your settlement alone for a few minutes, but your taps are required often. This is especially true when dealing with the nightly monster raids, but also just in terms of general maintenance. That means that you can't let the game sit and come back later: it also isn't engaging enough to grab all your attention. Sometimes The Bonfire hits a sweet spot, when you are killing time but can only give a little attention to your device, but other times it can be too tedious or too distracting.
The goal is to build up enough resources to wake a Titan to ... do battle with something for some reason. They tell you at the beginning of the game, but to be honest I forgot what it was all about once I was stockpiling wood and building a farm. The barely-there story is no reason to play this game; the writing style is decent enough to not be obviously bad, but not good enough to to stop it being forgettable.
There's an iron man mode with permadeath that you can try once you've finished the game once, but I'm not sure why you would want to. The pleasure of the Bonfire comes from uncovering all the secrets and paths forward. Once you know everything, it would be possible to play the game straight through without dying. One mistake, though, and you're back to tapping the "Work in Farm" button repeatedly with none of the wonder that comes from exploring the unlocking possibilities.
It's hard for me to imagine someone being a diehard fan of clicky survival sims, but if you are, this game is definitely for you. Otherwise, there are more compelling options.