For most people, puzzles are best when they provide a worthwhile challenge that directs us toward an “aha!” moment just before it becomes too frustrating. We all want our brain tickled, but we still want to feel smart by figuring out the solution in a reasonable amount of time, too. So thankfully, in all but a handful of cases, the intriguing box-moving puzzles of developer Draknek and Friends’ Bonfire Peaks manages to offer that ever-so-sweet balance between head scratching and dopamine rushes.
With its charming voxel art and melancholy tone, Bonfire Peaks is a visually arresting title that uses its environment to tell a vague tale of the passage of time and personal growth. It lacks exposition – there’s no dialogue or cutscenes at all – but the game takes place entirely across a dark island ruin littered with items from the playable character’s past. And though he doesn’t speak, he has set out to burn his belongings at various bonfires as he makes his way toward the summit of the ruin, hinting at a need for closure and renewal.
It’s this goal of burning away the past that acts as the focal point of each of Bonfire Peaks‘ puzzles. As you push ever upward on the ruin, you’re tasked with sitting at a myriad of bonfires, each one taking you to a new area with a self-contained puzzle – most of which are exceptionally fun to solve and can be wrapped up in just a few short minutes. There are approximately 200 of these across the sprawling overworld, consistently increasing in both complexity and sense of reward, ensuring that just when you think you’ve mastered what the game has to throw at you, you’re presented with a fresh reminder that you can still be stumped.
Getting the Right Angle
Set on isolated grid-based maps, every puzzle has the same goal of moving a box of belongings into a giant bonfire somewhere in the stage. To do so, you’ll have to constantly rearrange a limited number of other boxes of different sizes and shapes so that you can walk across gaps, climb walls, and otherwise navigate the environment. Some of the more intricate stages demand substantial amounts of intuition and and a great memory as you work your way to the end in hopes that all of your hard work has paid off. Luckily, if it hasn’t, there’s a rewind feature that can be used at any time to correct mistakes and try something different with no penalty.
Making your way to each cluster of bonfires is a minor puzzle to overcome, too, as completion of every level grants you a box that can be stacked in the overworld to reach new locations. While most of these areas are easily accessible by building a basic makeshift staircase, there are certain spots hidden a bit better that require you to get a little more creative with your stacking. This addicting overworld progression enticed me to keep tackling bonfires well after I should’ve been in bed because I needed a few more boxes to test all of my ideas of where I might be able to climb to next, and the moments when my persistence paid off was totally worth the loss of sleep.
Every so often, the game offers completely new concepts to work around, such as buttons that fire arrows into boxes, streams that can carry boxes to new places, or pieces of land that crumble away after walking across them. This leaves you to pick up on contextual clues that vary from fairly obvious and gratifying to downright obtuse – the latter of which can halt progress significantly. The creativity put into most puzzles is astounding, and they typically do a good job of easing you into new ideas, but there’s annoyance to be found in the occasional stages that are intent on having you pull off moves that, upon figuring them out, feel almost exploitative of the game’s mechanics.
One such puzzle left me perplexed for nearly an hour until I miraculously discovered that I had to finagle the boxes to get one to balance on my head and then awkwardly maneuver my way around a bonfire before being able to walk up some steps. Fumbling about until I stumbled upon this ridiculous solution didn’t make me feel inadequate, though – it just made me resent the whole thing for being so outrageously unintuitive. Despite such irritating puzzles being rare, they left a bad enough taste in my mouth that I often had to step away for a bit in order to reset my mood, and that was a bummer considering how immensely satisfying the game can be when it’s firing on all cylinders.
If you’re feeling stuck, however, PlayStation 5 players with a PlayStation Plus subscription can always take advantage of the Game Help feature, which will show you a video of how to solve any puzzle in the game. I consider myself a pretty smart guy, but I’m not above admitting I had to make use of it in one or two extremely tricky late-game stages that left me confused for a bit longer than I’d have liked. Since other platforms don’t have this feature, I assume the average player will find that they’ll need a video walkthrough for at least a couple of solutions.
But even if there are some levels that take things a few steps too far along the way to the zenith of its mysterious ruin, Bonfire Peaks never stops rewarding ingenuity and patience. It’s a mostly sublime experience that is somehow equally demanding and relaxing, and uncovering all of its secrets offers an opportunity to flex your brain to the max. So if you’re looking to test your mettle against some of gaming’s toughest mental hurdles, you’ll find everything you need in this clever box-based adventure.