Child of Light for Wii U, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC
I know it’s a bit weird to have a favourite game engine, but it’s hard not to have developed a quick fondness for the UbiArt Framework, which powered last year’s fantastic Rayman Legends and, more recently, Child of Light. For a major game publisher, Ubisoft took a fantastic risk into clearly pouring a lot of work into a new 2D game engine, and it’s paid off handsomely, providing a couple of the most beautiful games around. The question is, does Child of Light live up to its own beauty? Well…not quite.
Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian Duke in the late 19th century, has contracted a mysterious illness which has left her catatonic. She awakens in Lemuria, a mystical land which has had its stars, sun and moon stolen by Umbra, the Dark Queen. Gathering a motley band of adventurers around her, Aurora sets out to make her way home to her dying father, and save Lemuria along the way.
Child of Light is very much a fairy tale, with all of the advantages and disadvantages these things can have. The plot is simple and fairly formulaic, but it nonetheless stirs strong emotions in its oddly moving story. You won’t be surprised by much, but if you just relax and let yourself be caught up in the story, it’s quite enjoyable. Probably the most striking thing is that the whole thing is written in rhyme, which is the sort of thing I should love, but it just didn’t quite work for me. Yes, the whole game is in poetry, and that’s cool, but…well, it’s bad poetry. The rhymes are questionable, the rhythm regularly non-existent. Obviously writing a whole game in iambic pentameter is no easy feat, and I can’t blame them for not pulling it off, but nonetheless the rhyme is more distracting than charming. The ending is incredibly rushed, because, well…Ubisoft.
Child of Light may look like a platformer, but it’s an RPG, replete with all the stats and items and turn based battling of the genre. The combat is fine, not particularly complex, but enjoyable and without ever feeling like a grind. The combat is all built around a timeline at the bottom, which Aurora and her party, as well as the enemies, travel along at their own pace. At around 4/5 of the bar, the player inputs a command, with more powerful attacks taking longer to execute. The main element of strategy comes from the fact that if hit during this charging phase, your attack is interrupted and you’re thrown further back into timeline, with the enemies able to do the same to you. There’s a lot of judging speed and move lengths in the combat, alongside all the standard JRPG strategies. It’s not as complex as it sounds, but it’s still fun.
The game is navigated all on a 2D plain, as Aurora traverses Lemuria, mostly in a linear route but occasionally diverting off into side quests. Aurora is joined by Igniculus, a fairy which, at least on the Wii U version I played, is controlled on the touch pad. He can manipulate the environment in some simple puzzles, restore Aurora’s health, and in battle can play a pretty vital role in slowing down foes. This can be played co-op, and I had high hopes for this after Rayman Legends, but in the end it’s not really much fun for the player stuck with Igniculus.
Child of Light is an absolutely enchanting game…at least for the first half. The art is sublime, no other way to put it, and the soundtrack melancholy and hauntingly beautiful. There’s something so evocative about Child of Light that it can be difficult at first to ascertain the game’s flaws, but really there are a lot. The main issue that I had with Child of Light is just how (pardon the pun) lightweight it seemed. The game is the right length, but the story and pacing are incredibly rushed towards the end. I’m absolutely certain that there’s a whole load of cut content here (and if they try to sell it as DLC so help me God). I’m absolutely fine with games that put more focus into style and beauty than complex mechanics; if that’s what you intend to make then go for it. The problem with Child of Light is that it attempts to marry traditional JRPG tropes with the sort of aesthetic mostly seen in indie games. The result just doesn’t quite work, and I wonder if an RPG was the best use for this art style and world. At times Child of Light reminded me of the similarly lovely Aquaria, and perhaps a Metroidvania style game would have worked better. The battles are perfectly fine, but there’s not much depth to them, and they do eventually become chores to get through so you can see the next gorgeous area or hear the next wonderful tune.
Child of Light is an absolute feast for the senses, but as a game it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Again, I’m usually fine with this, but so much of Child of Light is taken up in the bland battling that the balance shifts against it. Look, I still admire this game for lots of reasons, and some people will really love it, but overall Child of Light just didn’t quite work for me.