Today marks the European release of Ubisoft’s gorgeous RPG/platformer hybrid Child of Light. Built on the UbiArt Framework, the same engine powering the recent 2D Rayman games, Child of Light is a downloadable fairytale-inspired title written by Far Cry 3 scribe Jeffrey Yohalem. The game stars Aurora, daughter of an Austrian duke who wakes in a dream-like world and must find her way back to her own reality, meeting up with a number of companions along the way, including the helpful blue firefly Igniculus.
I pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition, which contains a download code for the game, a 24-page art book packed with plenty of beautiful concept art, a light-up Igniculus keyring, some DLC extras, and, curiously, a poster by famed Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano. Aside from the development team possibly being influenced by his work, I’m not quite sure why it’s there – as far as I know he didn’t work on the game. I’m not complaining though, being something of an Amano fan (and an owner of this), and it’s an utterly glorious poster. Images of it don’t quite do it justice; it’s rich in both colour and detail, and printed on thick, high-quality stock. It’s just a shame that it’s been tightly folded to fit in the box as I’d love to frame it.
I decided to try out the PS4’s video recording features for the first time, and made a video of the first fifteen minutes of Aurora’s adventure, which you can see below. Curiously, the game seems to strip out audio during gameplay, making my video oddly silent. Considering that the intro cutscene features full audio, I can only imagine that this is a ‘design decision’ by Ubisoft – I tried making a few other videos from the game and sadly came up with the same results. It’s a strange decision on Ubisoft’s part – perhaps it’s to do with licensing issues surrounding Cœur de pirate‘s soundtrack. Either way, it means you can’t enjoy the game’s audio, but you can still get a look at the game’s lovely visuals, and read on below for my impressions from my brief time with the game.
I managed to play the first half-hour or so and thought I’d get some thoughts down on (virtual) paper. The first thing you’ll notice is the visuals. This is an exceptionally pretty game. Screenshots and videos don’t quite manage to communicate just how beautiful the hand-drawn art that makes up the environments Aurora must travel through is. You really need to see this in all it’s glory on your big screen to fully appreciate it. The soundtrack is nicely understated, allowing you to focus more on the visual side of the presentation, though I think I’ll have to pay a bit more attention to it next time I play it, as all I can remember now is that it didn’t get in the way.
In terms of gameplay, I was strongly reminded of two games, at least in the early stages. The first of these is Limbo, Playdead’s puzzle-platformer from 2010. I said at the top of the piece that Child of Light is something of a hybrid between two genres, with the platforming seeming to take up the majority of your time. It has a similar minimalist feel to Limbo, a similar pace of movement and a similar floaty jump. Just as in Limbo, one of the first things you’ll do is grab and push a block to reach a higher platform. There’s also some light puzzling to contend with, which I hope will continue through the game and provide some decent head-scratchers.
None of this is a bad thing, considering what a playable game Limbo is, but of course Child of Light doesn’t share the former game’s bleak, lonely tone. It’s not long before you stumble upon Igniculus, who you have to control with the right stick (or the DualShock 4’s touchpad) and right from your first meeting you’re gently taught how he can help you out. While platforming, Igniculus can whizz around the screen collecting glowing orbs (which can help to refill Aurora’s HP and MP) as well as holding enemies in place to allow Aurora to get in position for a back attack. Of course, Igniculus can also help you out in battle.
Fighting is a different proposition altogether, taking the form of a turn-based battle system in the grand old jRPG tradition. Aurora stands on the left of the screen, her enemies on the right, and at the bottom of the screen is the time bar, with icons moving along it representing both Aurora and her enemies. The last quarter of the bar is the casting bar; every action has its own cast time – the more powerful the attack, the longer the cast time, and anyone who takes a hit while casting may find their attack cancelled and be pushed back down the time bar. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like Grandia“, then you’re right. Because it’s lifted straight out of Grandia. Of course, in Child of Light, we also have Igniculus on our side, and using the right stick we can hinder enemies, slowing their progress along the time bar to give Aurora a chance to get an attack in.
It’s very rewarding to be able to get a strike in with Aurora, delaying an enemies attack, and then use Igniculus to hinder the same enemy, allowing Aurora to overtake them and strike again before your opponent has even had a chance to retaliate. Igniculus’ ability to slow an enemy isn’t unlimited however, as it’s governed by a meter (which can often be refilled by gathering blue orbs in the corners of the screen) meaning that rather than being a win button, it becomes a resource that you have to use effectively to gain the upper hand.
This being an RPG, there are of course level-ups and skill trees, though I’ve only levelled up once in my short time with the game, choosing a ‘Starlight’ ability that hits dark-aligned enemies hard. A few reviews I’ve read have mentioned that the game is very easy on the default normal difficulty, so I started the game on hard, hoping for a bit of a challenge. I want an RPG to expect me to make thoughtful, effective use of both my abilities and build, so hopefully the hard setting will offer that kind of experience.
I do have a couple of minor issues that I hope will ease as the game goes on though. Firstly, all of the game’s dialogue is told in rhyming couplets, and these can be quite forced at times, eliciting the odd groan. In general, the dialogue is solid enough (and I have no doubt that this is eased somewhat by the fact that none of it is voiced), but setting yourself the challenge of telling an entire story in rhyme pretty much ensures you’ll have to fudge it every now and then. For the most part, it manages to help sell the dreamy fairytale setting, but don’t expect it to be flawless.
Secondly, unless you’re playing in co-op, you’re expected to control both Aurora and Igniculus at the same time. Aurora is on the left stick, with Igniculus on the right, and it often means you’ll stop moving one so that you can control the other with greater ease. In battle, this isn’t much of an issue; when Aurora can take action, the game will pause, giving you time to move Igniculus near an enemy in case you need to slow them down and then choose an action for Aurora to carry out. In platforming, it can slow your pace somewhat – if you leave Igniculus in place and move Aurora he won’t follow, so you find yourself trying to move both at the same time so as not to leave him off-screen.
Hopefully, both of these issues will prove to be minor niggles that I’ll get used to, as I’m really enjoying the game so far. I can see myself flying through it over the next few days – reviews peg it in the range of 12-15 hours, which, while admittedly short for an RPG, is fine for a downloadable title. It’s genuinely surprising, not to mention encouraging, to see a huge, AAA-publisher like Ubisoft not just taking a punt on a smaller downloadable title like this, but actually getting behind it too, putting out plenty of ‘behind the scenes‘-type videos on Youtube to drum up interest in something that isn’t the usual huge-budget sequel. More like this please, games industry!