From the second I saw Child of Light, I had high hopes. The entrancing story-book art style and RPG-meets-platformer concept piqued my interest, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Would the melding of genres actually work? Or would this brilliant premise showcase nothing but untapped potential? Well, after spending three delightful hours with it, I can safely say that the game not only works, but it has exceeded my every expectation.
Child of Light isn’t necessarily the type of game you’d expect to see from a large publisher like Ubisoft. Usually the home of big-budget series like Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell, a whimsical downloadable RPG is in stark contrast to anything they have released before. The gorgeous artwork and purely digital release invokes the feeling of an indie title – yet this game has the backing of a multi-million dollar company. While some will protest at this professionally published title masquerading as an indie, it is a move that should be applauded. The gaming industry has moved to a point where a game is either a multi-billion dollar affair, or made by two guys in a basement, and its nice to see a publisher like Ubisoft find a good middle ground – and in the process allow one of their most talented teams some creative freedom.
The game sees you take the role of a Princess named Aurora who, having fallen into a sickness, finds herself trapped in a fantastical land as she slips out of consciousness. Her only choice is to battle through the darkness that engulfs the world and make her way back home. The story works, and the likeable characters more than compensate for the cliché plot.
The artstyle is highly reminiscent of children’s story The Little Prince, and the dialogue is cleverly written so that when characters interact, every other line will rhyme, adding even more charm to proceedings. It’s not afraid to be self-aware however, and at a later point in the game a jester joins your party who refuses to rhyme, eliciting a few chuckles when the other characters repeatedly suggest an alternate word which actually rhymes. It is small touches like this that really add to the experience, and kept a grin on my face throughout my time with the game.
Borrowing the UbiArt engine from the equally-gorgeous Rayman Legends, the team at Ubisoft have decided to create a fairy tale type RPG that manages to keep strands of the armless platformer’s DNA intact. Instead of simply wandering around the world and triggering events like in traditional RPGs, your character can jump and eventually fly around the 2D planes, creating a refreshing and unique way to traverse the game’s world. The enemy encounters aren’t random, and as in the Tales series you can see your enemies on the map and even stun them before diving into combat.
While the whole game feels pretty unique, it’s the combat system that surprised me the most. Turn-based combat has been done to death since the dawn of gaming, so it’s always a nice surprise when developers find an interesting new take on the aged battle system. In Child of Light, your characters can only take their turn once their icon has reached a certain point on a progress bar. Sounds simplistic right? Well, your enemies are also bound by the same rules, and a well timed attack from them will knock your icon back to the start and vice versa, delaying your turn. This adds a surprising amount of tension to each battle – especially the boss battles – because if you cast a powerful spell it slows your progress more than your standard attack, and if you’re not careful this may lead to the enemy overtaking you and interrupting your crucial turn. This system ensures that combat is never a passive “Is it my turn yet’?” kind of experience, and adds a great sense of urgency to the encounters.
Platforming and turn-based combat aren’t the only gameplay elements on offer here though, as there are also some well-implemented touch-based puzzles, too. At the start of your journey, you meet an odd-looking blue blob named Igniculus who decides to accompany you on your quest. He can be controlled both on and off the battlefield, and is used to find orbs that lay hidden around various parts of the map – and also to slow down your enemies in battle. While he can be controlled with the analogue stick, I found this method highly inaccurate. The PS4’s touch pad works superbly to control him, and likewise the Wii U’s touchpad looks like a good bet. For this reason alone, from my experience, so far I’d recommend gamers to get this on either one of these platforms over PC or Xbox, as it really does make a surprising amount of difference to the experience.
It’s rare that a game comes along that catches you off guard and captivates you immediately, but the downloadable Child of Light’s intoxicating atmosphere means it has done just that. I managed to finish the first four chapters of the game in three hours, and wasn’t even aware that so much time had passed, as I found my journey through the Kingdom of Lemuria an entirely engrossing one. The total length looks (at a guess) to be around seven hours, and if the rest of the game is anything like the first half then we’re in for a wonderful treat. RPG fans and anyone looking for something a bit different would be wise to check this out when it is released on April 30th, on pretty much every platform going.
Article based on preview code played at an Ubisoft hosted event.