I’ve written about video games as art on multiple occasions, often incorporating the idea into the reviews I’ve written for more than a decade. It’s a belief that’s near and dear to me, with video games being what I believe to be the ultimate form of artistic expression. They allow the art’s creator (the development team) to hand control of their work to the art’s consumer (the player) and experience it on an interactive level no other medium can compare to.
Yet even with that belief at the forefront of my mind, Lost Ember struck me in a way few games have — in part because calling Lost Ember “a game” isn’t just a disservice to it, but altogether incorrect. Lost Ember is an artistic experience, filled with gorgeous visuals, vivacious colors, haunting melodies, captivating revelations and a rhythm that ties everything together perfectly.
Unlike most games, Lost Ember’s gameplay acts more as a vehicle to its presentation — an unexpected but not unwelcome role reversal. Players take control of a wolf with the ability to assume control of other animals. Each one possesses unique abilities that make certain areas easier to traverse, but the core gameplay mechanic is about discovering the history and story elements tied to each setting.
There are collectibles along the way that encourage going off the beaten path, but most of the game’s interaction comes in the form of moving from space to space. Sometimes that’s straightforward, such as when you need to assume the form of a duck to fly across a gap. At other points, there’s a bit of navigation required, like becoming a fish and swimming through an ancient sewer system.
Regardless of what animal you’re controlling, exploring the stunning scenery is a joy. The phenomenal art style ingeniously combines sharp angles with soft, gentle curves to create something striking, and the juxtaposition of the two contrast in a way that constantly provides your eyes with something new to take in. Coupled with colors that feel as though they’re going to drip off the screen at any moment, Lost Ember looks and feels like you’ve stepped into a massive, ever-changing landscape painting.
The visual effect of each animal interacting with the environment reinforces the artistic direction. Zooming around as a hummingbird causes the periphery of the screen to blur, only coming back into focus once you’ve stopped. At the same time, the camera takes on a tight angle as you roll into a ball while controlling a wombat, creating the illusion you’ve become more compact.
It’s not just the imagery that makes Lost Ember such an immersive experience. The game’s soundtrack is hypnotic in its beauty, with captivating piano and guitar melodies somehow making the landscapes feel even more alive.
While the gorgeous visuals and soundtrack bring the environment to life, superb voice acting weaves the story together as you uncover more clues about how your character and spirit guide find themselves in their current situation. What’s more, because your character is in animal form, the use of words unspoken carries a powerful weight, and the storytelling device is used to great effect.
Lost Ember is a visual experience, beautiful story, moving soundtrack and captivating interactive journey rolled into a delightful package. I can’t call it a game, and I don’t want to. Lost Ember deserves to be called more. It deserves to be called exactly what it is: art.
Lost Ember earns 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5.