A beautiful change of pace for the folks from Ubisoft, Child of Light is a quiet statement. What its saying remains for you to find out for yourself. A story about a Princess tasked with nothing less than returning the Sun, Moon, and Stars from the evil that stole them, but also about a girl, trying to get home. Beauty, great gameplay, and a sense of sadness and loss, it’s Child of Light and I think you might want to give it a minute of your time.
Release Date: April 30, 2014
Consoles: PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One (Digital Distribution)
Genre / Rating: RPG / E
Child of Light, if I may use a gross oversimplification, is a storybook come to life. It also contains some of the same stuff that made games like Limbo and Braid (to name but two of the truly excellent indie style games of recent times) such wonderful and refreshing experiences. A 2D platformer with RPG elements, as is very true of this game as a whole, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Child of Light is about a Princess and her father the King who love each other very much, until tragedy happens. The Princess, Aurora, falls asleep and doesn’t wake up, not in this world at least. It’s all delivered in a rhyme scheme of uneven pace and success that, even if it falls a little short, one must admire.
It’s not easy to do anything long-form in rhyming couplets, seriously, I’ve tried.
The princess awakes in a strange and magical world, and if this is all seeming somewhat familiar, I’m not surprised. These are timeless story traditions that are used for a reason. The world is broken, overgrown, and overrun with dark things: The Sun, Stars and Moon stolen by a Dark Queen. There’s something unsettling here, and I think that’s not an unfamiliar trend in storybooks either. Something about the contrast of innocence and darkness has a timeless place in our stories and it’s commonly used for a reason. If you don’t believe me, check out some of Grimm’s original fairytales, or if you don’t want to be completely disturbed, films like Labyrinth or Coraline. But as much as this is about a young princess in a dilapidated dream world/ fantastical land… this is not a game for children.
The world of Child of Light, the whole game really, is beautiful, but it’s a quietly tragic sort of beauty that carried a constant undercurrent of sadness, in a very similar way to Limbo if not quite so shocking the journey of that incredibly fragile boy. Though I was often impressed and taken by the beauty, while simultaneously filled with respect for the art direction, it made me uncomfortable a lot of the time. Not that I’m complaining, sometimes good art does that. Good art also pushes and at times defies conventions, and that too is true of Child of Light. Painterly and fluid, with beautiful environments aside, all in all this is a much deeper game that its graphics might have you believe. At first glance you can be forgiven for thinking this a storybook game from top to bottom. It isn’t, and all credit goes to Ubisoft for pursuing it. After the success of their many ‘blockbuster’ titles Ubisoft have undoubtedly earned the right to try something different, but not everyone would exercise that right. Aurora is a wonderful protagonist in her own right, but not the one most would have chosen for a game targeting a larger audience than simply ‘young females’, which might have been the point in the first place. A Princess worried about and fighting to get back to the King, rather than the other way around? Given that it is 2014, it would be nice if this weren’t worth discussing, but it is. I won’t belabor this point any longer, but it had to be mentioned. Moving on.
You wake in the world and quickly meet your first ally, Igniculus the ‘firefly’ though in truth he looks a lot more like a glowing blue onion or garlic bulb, but he is a useful tool and a vehicle for much of that early loneliness I mentioned above. Later his role in combat is essential, but at the start, he is a light in the dark, shining with all his might to guide your way, and seemingly the only friendly being in sight. Igniculus and Aurora move through the environment and are controlled separately, unlike so many games where the supporting character just trails, moving to scripted beats. It was a simple enough thing at first, that, like many other aspects of Child of Light, hid depth and forces you to expand in subtle ways. Aurora quickly earns the gift of flight, and meets some other friends along the way, but those first moments, land bound with only Igniculus by your side are quietly poignant, enough that they’re still with me as I write this.
The combat is initiated by contact with baddies, but the actual fighting takes place in a battle arena, pitting Aurora and her allies against multiple foes, not unlike many JRPGs will do. Battle is a turned based affair that depends on a timeline, 3/4s of which is an idle time, and your active or, ‘cast’ window. Each character has a bevy of offense and defense options, like differing attacks, healing, negating enemy effects, potions, and so forth. It’s a seemingly simple mechanic that gets complicated very quickly as you add more elements. If you imagine someone going from juggling 2 standard balls to 4, then 6 and a couple chainsaws you’ll get the idea. Trying to time your spells and attacks to interrupt that of your enemies, timing buffs and defense, it goes on and on. It turned into a puzzle that was very satisfying when triumphant, but often riddled with panic. It’s a race you can manipulate and boy oh boy it can get frantic. It should be said though, that despite its intensity, everything here is incredibly well balanced. Aurora and her friends level up in a way that will feel very comfortable to those of you who play RPGs, and, given this team worked on Far Cry before this (I know right? talk about a change of pace) it seemed very familiar indeed. Multiple skill trees allow you to buff out Aurora and her supporting cast as you like, and manages to be fairly simple while containing enough options to keep things lively and interesting.
Child of Light is something of a slow burn, from top to bottom. It’s easy to judge up top, then reveals itself to be more subtle and complex than you thought. A fun and interesting game that is well balanced and thoroughly captivating, charming and beautiful with a deep emotion that doesn’t beat you about the head, and all disguised as something that looks appropriate for a fairy tale but isn’t meant for kids. Carefully designed I think, to be something hidden quietly Child of Light is thought provoking, but was never more so then after I had put the controller down. Well done Ubisoft.
Gameplay 4.5 / 5
Graphics 4.5 / 5
Sounds 4.5 / 5
Controls 4.5 / 5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability : 4.5 / 5
Overall Rating – 4.5/5 (90%)