Like a mint furnishing a hotel pillow, finding a great game out of nowhere is one of those things that makes life just a little sweeter. Sometime it just takes the little push of a barren release schedule to find it. Child of Light is such a game.
An Ubisoft title that looks and plays like an indie game, Child of Light follows the not-at-all-symbolically named Aurora, an Austrian princess who falls into a deep illness in 1895. While she appears to have died, she in fact awakes in a mysterious, hand-painted land through which she must journey. It’s a simple story but it goes to some interesting places and the consistent and occasionally amusing rhyming structure to all the dialogue is a nice touch that adds to the “book within a game” style.
The player controls the game on a series of overlaid 2D planes in bleakly beautiful environments in a crossover between LittleBigPlanet and Limbo. But the gameplay at the heart of Child of Light is quite radically different.
Unusually for a cute 2D side-scroller, Child of Light is an RPG. None of this modern, action-RPG stuff which plays like a Zelda game except you get to see the computer’s internal damage calculations either. This is proper, Square Enix style ATB fighting, with status effects, menus, lines of characters and infuriating dodging.
Well, okay – there are a few things different. Enemy attack bars are visible, and attacking them during the “charge” stage when they’re winding up their attack will stun them and buy more time. The firefly Igniculus with whom Aurora travels can be used both to heal the party and to blind enemies with bright light, slowing their attack speed while his charge holds.
A problem is that the game is all too easy. Health and MP pickups are all over the place and the characters level incredibly fast towards the start of the game negating any real challenge later on. While the firefly’s blinding light can run out after a while, it refills automatically and fairly quickly, and can be restored faster using the glowing plants littered all over the game world to the point where it may as well be infinite.
Levelling up happens in the standard RPG way, except it gives quite huge stat boosts and the rapidly-accumulated skill points can be distributed in such a way as to make the characters nearly invincible after only an hour or two of gameplay. While the RPG combat is well designed, it won’t offer a challenge for seasoned veterans of the genre looking for a real test.
But then that’s not what Child of Light is for. It’s a game full of warmth, heart and poetry that sets out to tell a story and raise emotions, which accomplishes both those tasks admirably. To chide it too much for its lack of difficulty risks missing the point – this is a game that will be played by children and as such they have to be able to appreciate as much of it as possible without becoming frustrated.
The other aspect of gameplay which defines Child of Light is the ability to fly, acquired early on and rather majestic to see. It encourages exploring every nook and cranny and is probably the most fun thing to hit RPGs since the Golden Saucer.
The game is presented in storybook style although that by no means results in sub-par graphics. The watercolour backgrounds are lush and Aurora’s character design is great (especially her flowing, phsyics-enabled hair) as are the lighting effects exhibited by Igniculus. The environments hold a definite fantasy tone and at times it’s possible to really get sucked in in a way that, perhaps ironically, a more photorealistic game wouldn’t have managed.
There are some control issues. While using a gamepad is the preferable method for flying and general movement, control of Igniculus is best carried out using the mouse rather than the right-hand stick. The end result of the two control schemes being differently suited is the bizarre situation of using the mouse and the left analogue stick in conjunction, and it seems baffling that a better way of controlling Igniculus (perhaps a Zelda-style lock-on control) wasn’t implemented.
Still the slight niggles here don’t detract from an overall very enjoyable game. Child of Light achieves the admirable tightrope walk of being an excellent game to play with children while still containing enough depth and complexity to entertain more adult players. Its presentation, lovely audioscape and engaging story all conspire to create a game well worth experiencing. 85%