The land of Lemuria has fallen into darkness, and only the lost child Aurora can restore the light. Charged with recovering the sun, the moon, and the stars, and gifted with the ability of flight, this reluctant princess must defeat the Queen of Night. But is Aurora really in Lemuria, or is she a sick child in the real world, hallucinating on her death bed as she longs to see her doting father one more time? With its uncertain, dream-like narrative, Child of Light channels darker fables, such as Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and similarly blurs the line between reality and delusion as Aurora pursues her quest.
Aurora’s journey sees her joined by other adventurers along the way, most of whom charmingly avoid fairy tale and RPG clichés. For instance, Finn, a dwarf-like creature, is the party’s elemental mage, rather than the more typical axe-wielding warrior gamers are trained to expect. Most important though is Igniculus, a small firefly players control independent of Aurora, able to reach blocked areas or collect healing items from afar. A second player can also control Igniculus, adding a simple co-op factor.
Gameplay is a blend of platforming and role-playing elements, with a crafting system thrown in for good measure. The strange locations of Lemuria are explored on a 2D plane, yet still feel sprawling and vast, with concealed areas tucked away in shadow. Movement is a joy, particularly once Aurora earns her wings, and sweeping around the sky feels brilliantly liberating.
The battle system is a robust utilisation of turn-based mechanics. Although it's unusual to see this in games produced outside of Japan, Ubisoft Montreal has done a prime job of making it simple but engaging. Any two party members fight at once, and can be swapped in and out mid-battle to make use of individual talents and skills. More interesting though is the way time factors strategically into combat, with player characters and enemies able to time attacks to disrupt opponents’ moves and push their turn further back. Shining Igniculus’ light on monsters slows them further, allowing you some control over the flow of each encounter.
Ubisoft developed the engine used here to allow for diverse artistic styles. Having previously been used on Rayman titles, Child of Light is the first chance to show off the system’s versatility - and it's an incredibly impressive showcase. Aurora’s world is breathtakingly, delicately beautiful, full of charming designs and pastel-shaded wonder. Yet as with the fairy tales the game is so evocative of, there is also a darker edge, such as foreboding forests where disturbing enemy creatures lurk. Despite being 2D, richly detailed layers add depth and character to the mesmerising locations. Appropriately enough, the use of light throughout is similarly enchanting. Igniculus’ gentle glow illuminates nearby surroundings, and the ability to intensify his brightness at will factors into many of the puzzles and hidden paths you will encounter. The musical score complements the visuals perfectly, offering a soundtrack that is cheerfully airy and powerfully haunting in equal measure.
For some, the whole experience may be too twee, and the choice to deliver every line of dialogue and narration in rhyme can grate on even those enjoying the game after a while, particularly when the cadence and delivery of the rhymes becomes stretched or forced. However, overlook this and Child of Light delivers an amazing experience with fresh takes on familiar archetypes, and looks extraordinary while doing so.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen