Preview: Child Of Light

I always enjoy a pleasant surprise, like when I preview a game I wasn’t following too closely and it turns out to be one that catches my attention. Child Of Light is one such surprise. It’s a turn-based RPG from Ubisoft, which couldn’t be further from the series that the company is most commonly attributed with. It wasn’t a game that blew me away, but it was an enjoyable RPG with some unique quirks to separate it from the rest, and it was enough to make me want to play the rest of it.

Child Of Light has very heavy fairy tale influences. A small child named Aurora awakes in a strange land, and must unite with a band of misfits to save the world from the dark magic of an evil queen. All the game’s dialogue is delivered in rhyme, which is cute to begin with but it often feels forced and excessive. One highlight though, was a character who couldn’t rhyme, and would mess up the obvious word choices. The game even looks like it was ripped out of a storybook, with a nice art style using the same graphics engine as the recent Rayman games. It brings areas of the game world and its inhabitants alive with their own unique character. The music, visuals and writing come together to make a charming world, which makes the lack of voice or sound when characters talk stand out. It makes for a strange hollowness that could be rectified with even some beeps and short voice clips (like gasps and groans).

Aurora travels through levels in a platformer-like fashion, with the occasional puzzle to solve. To start with you traverse the environment by walking and jumping, but not too long into the game you’ll be granted the ability to fly. There’s a real magical feel to flying above the tree line and into the clouds. The environments change to fit your new skill, and become large maze-like areas to navigate, sometimes with thorns or another form of threat lining surfaces, meaning you’ll need to fly carefully through the levels. Enemies also fill the world, which trigger a battle when made contact with. You can avoid contact with them if you don’t wish to battle, and if you bump them from behind you’ll be given the advantage when battle begins. There’s a lot of familiar systems at play in battle. Each character has got different skills and moves to choose from (which can be unlocked by spending skill points you earn from levelling up) and you can customise your equipment with craftable gems that change your elemental affinity or alter your stats.  Hitting an enemy with an element they’re weak to (or getting hit by one yourself) deals increased damage, with the reverse being true for an element a character resists. It all sounds a bit “been there, done that”, but Child Of Light‘s battle system has some unique features to show for itself.

A bar down the bottom of the screen shows how close each character is to taking their next turn, with different characters progressing faster than others. When they reach the section of the bar labelled ‘Cast’, they pick their move and target. Each move has a cast speed, which will vary with the strength of the move. Your character may progress quickly to the Cast stage, but then pick a slow move which allows your opponent to catch up, and may even make their move before you do. And you don’t want to get hit while casting, because if you (or your enemies!) do, then your character will be delayed, requiring more time to return to the Cast stage.

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An added layer of complexity is your companion, a firefly named Igniculus. He can be controlled with the second analog stick, and can interact with the game world by glowing. Out of battle this allows him to create shadows or shine lights to solve puzzles, or avoid enemies so you can avoid battling them. In battle, his light can slow down a selected enemy, or heal an ally. It’s almost like you’re balancing two games at once- picking the right moves up top to deal the most damage or keep your party safe, while slowing down the right enemies to line up the icons in the time bar where you want them, ensuring you delay damage to your party as much as possible. Igniculus’ powers can’t be used forever though, as his charge gauge will deplete as they’re used. It’ll recharge over time (slowly), and can also be replenished with items, or by collection little clumps of ‘wishes’ in the world. Plants containing these wishes appear in battle as well, so you’ll need to wait til the right time to burst them open in order to make full use of Igniculus’ powers.

The game is definitely one that will appeal to children, with its fairy tale stylings and simple plot, and yet the battle system is quite complex. So it was a wise choice to allow a second player to take control of Igniculus, meaning a parent or older sibling can help out and handle the complicated parts while a younger gamer can enjoy jumping and flying around the storybook world, and seeing all the quirky characters that pop up. And of course, players who can better understand the puzzles and systems at play can do everything themselves, and experience all aspects of the game.

One thing I didn’t get a feel for during my preview session was the game’s structure. There was a main quest to follow, and you could deviate from the path to find hidden items and occasionally secret bosses of sorts. I found one boss hidden away who was a larger and much more powerful version of a common enemy that dropped some stat boosting items upon defeat. It was good to see that there were incentives to explore every nook and cranny of the levels. However I’m not sure if the game will have explicit sidequests. I didn’t encounter any during my session, although during the last bit of dialogue I witnessed there were multiple NPCs with exclamation marks above their heads standing around the town we were in, so I imagine I’d just hit the part of the game where things open up.

Child Of Light is looking like an interesting game with elements that will appeal to both younger and older gamers. It being a smaller downloadable title rather than a big retail release means that the game will hopefully tie itself up nicely before the fatigue of turn-based battles sets in. It has a gorgeous art style that gives the world and its inhabitants a nice sense of character, and contributes to the fairy tale theme of the game. It’s a game you’ll want you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Child of Light is out on April 30th for 360, Xbox One, PS4, PS3 Wii U. Thanks to Ubisoft Australia for the chance to check out the game!