written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Sometimes a very special game comes along, something that entreats the senses beyond typical visual stimuli. Something like Child of Light sits as the prime example of how gaming experiences can also be considered works of art. An RPG developed by Ubisoft Montreal, a game this beautiful with such a distinct style to it generally come from smaller indie studios, so it was surprising to find out that a major studio usually developing triple-A titles had a hand in it.
You are Aurora, a Princess lost in an unfamiliar world. In life, Aurora dies and awakens in a strange realm full of a wide range of colorful characters and deadly enemies. Lost and afraid, her first friend is a rather talkative little firefly that plays prominently into the gameplay mechanics. The lost Princess eventually finds a sword and with it the means to fight back against everything that tries to devour her with her trusty firefly by her side. Her goal is simple; all she wants is to get back home to her grieving father.
Employing the UbiArt Framework engine first featured in Rayman Origins and the follow-up game Rayman Legends, Child of Light features a distinct art style that stands out above the rest of the package. Hand drawn character models set to gorgeous backdrops. The world is traversed in side-scrolling fashion and despite being a 2D game, the depth of the environment around you really gives you the sense that you are in one big world. Eventually Aurora gains the ability of flight, making exploration much easier and opening up this gorgeous world even more. While there is a straight forward path, some of the most interesting sights come from deviating from the forward path.
Not just eye candy, the gameplay mechanics are equally a treat. Enemies are shown on the main screen, if they attack you first you are at a disadvantage… conversely if you attack from behind you have the advantage. The firefly becomes an indispensably companion during moments such as this. With the right stick or using the PS4 touchpad you can control the firefly independently from Aurora, shining its light blinds enemies allowing you to take the advantage and either sneak past the enemies or get the drop on them in battle. Combat is handled in a separate screen with Aurora, the firefly, and one of your companions who eventually join your party. You can use the firefly to blind enemies in battle as well to slow down their attacks. Your party has various attacks from physical damage to magic that help take down all things that go bump in the night, if you attack an enemy while they prepare to attack you can interrupt their attack and push them back from attacking again for a brief moment. This of course works against you as well since enemy attacks that land while one of your party is preparing to attack can also interrupt the action. Combat is simple to pickup but carries with it a certain strategic nature since some attacks take longer than others to execute.
A strong narrative makes this highly digestible game feel like an epic journey. Character dialog is distinct and each new face you meet from NPCs to party members all have a personality all their own. Aurora clearly carries the narrative and as the player I sincerely wanted her to make her way back home.
Child of Light is a treat for all senses, frantic battle set to a beautifully crafted backdrop make for an unforgettable experience. Rarely does a game come along that really impacts the player beyond just being a quick experience, the last game that really did that for me was Limbo. I don’t know if I’d ever pick up Child of Light again, but lack of replay-ability isn’t a bad thing when the experience is this good. Child of Light is a game that stays with you, if you want a prime example for games as art, this one is the perfect candidate. An absolute must play
+ every sight in the world is gorgeous
+ fluid combat system
+ narrative really stays with you
- the dialog can sometimes feel lacking