This gorgeous game blends 2D platforming with turn-based RPG combat and the poetry of sad children. Toby was, naturally, a perfect fit.
By Toby McCasker on April 29, 2014 at 1:30 am
Child of Light is a patchwork of old-world devices loved to deathly new life (you what?). Scroll to the side, jump up and down. Shove a box over here and nab some floating orb things there. A hideous spider! Kick its ass in turn-based combat. Level up with XP and climb mad skill trees. Puzzly platforming turn-based RPG gaming? What is this, Soviet Russia where the games play you? Austria circa 1895 actually, and the greatest of pains have been taken to make all this definitive ‘80s and ‘90s stuff feel like you’ve never been through it a million times before.
Child of Light has also – and this wouldn’t usually be of much interest but for Far Cry 3’s narrative controversy – been written by Jeffrey Yohalem. That being the case, the story immediately immerses itself in straight-up death. You, the titular child of light (Aurora’s your name, and hey you’re also a princess), are suddenly dead. Or permanently asleep. Yep.
The fable vibe is no accident, and the whiff of those moral missives of old of course implicate the wicked new step-mother. Who’s to say? You aren’t. Or are. You’re dead (or permanently asleep) but dreaming. Or are you? Yohalem’s abstraction is in much firmer form here, enough that you can maybe guess this from the outset: Colourful as Child of Light might look, it is incredibly sad.
It’s also just incredible, most of all to look at. Those preamble screenshots were underwhelming, and that’s to be expected when aping yesteryear’s 2D platformer aesthetic. To see it in motion is another thing. ‘Aesthetic’ is not really the world. ‘Beauteous’ is more like it. Playing it is to revisit the liquid hop-skip-jump of ancient gems like Heart of Darkness and even something like Abe’s Oddysee.
This is a PC game from the heart, and it’s hard to see it working on a non-keyboard/mouse combo. To wit, it’s not long before Aurora meets a little bundle of firefly called Igniculus. She runs and jumps (and later, flies) via the keyboard, Igni-poo floats around via the mouse alternately collecting orbs and blinding enemies so you can shuffle behind them for a surprise beat-down.
And beating down something for the first time is when you truly start to realise Child of Light is way more than the sum of its seemingly archaic parts. Turn-based combat is often seen as a dead-end right now, but Ubisoft Montreal have made it as fiendishly new as that first time through Chrono Trigger. A large part of this due to the strategy inherent in dealing with Child of Light’s riff on Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle. For three-quarters of each turn, you wait for a bar to fill. The remaining quarter of it is red and labeled ‘Cast,’ and it’s here where the bar suddenly fills up faster or slower, depending on what kind of action you’re trying to take. If you damage an enemy while they’re charging up in this section, you’ll knock their turn back a bit. Same goes for you. It’s the most frantic game of chess you’ve never played.
RPG fans will also dig the micro-management and crafting element of the Oculi, gems that can be equipped and further refined to give you all kinds of schweet schweet bonuses. Is that a hollaback to Final Fantasy VII’s materia? Most definitely. And it’s cool beans. Only two party members to a melee, though. Boo. More Rubella always.
For such a bold little collage of old school, there are only two things about Child of Light that kind of suck, though neither of them are at all close to deal-breakers: The first is that there’s some amount of backtracking to be done. If things weren’t so good-looking, you’d be grumbling. Secondly, Yohalem seems to have set himself some kind of writer’s challenge wherein all of the dialogue must be delivered in rhyme. This didn’t quite work out, with awkward prose and unfortunate couplets all over the place. When it works it’s endearing. When it doesn’t, +10 to cringe power.
It’s hard to cringe at something this purty for long. Child of Light is special as hell; the kind of title you swear you won’t forget when it comes time to name GOTY names at the end of the year. In this case, it won’t be that hard. You’ll have trouble forgetting li’l Aurora and friends full-stop, I think.
- Everything old is newish again.
- So pretty. Sup bby.
- Turn-based biff FTW. Bring it back, bring it baaack.
- Nobody likes poetry, Jeffrey. Not even poets.
- Two-member battle crew feels restrictive like new underwear.
- Rubella is not main character why.
Child of Light is available for $14.99 on Steam on May 1.
This review copy provided by Ubisoft.