Child of Light
Despite being the creation of Ubisoft Montreal, a team known for the likes of Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed and the upcoming Watch Dogs, Child of Light looks for all the world like gaming’s latest indie darling. Indeed, its visuals recall 2007 breakthrough Braid (we’ll eat our fez if Child of Light’s level chime is not a direct audio nod to Jonathan Blow’s debut game), whilst the melancholy story of entering a realm between life and death immediately brings to mind that other indie heavyweight, Limbo.
However, Child of Light soon reveals its own character, as well as its more fleshed-out development. Visually stunning throughout, with some lovely, creative animation, Ubisoft’s secret weapon feels like the gap between vibrant, imaginative concept art and finished product is about as sleight as it could possibly be. Calling this a fairy tale brought to life may be a lazy descriptor, but it’s rarely been more apt.
Underneath the surface, it’s clear that the game's mechanics are as pleasing as the visuals. Part platform adventure, part RPG battler, Child of Light balances its genre tropes pretty much perfectly, easing you into the action with a smooth learning curve and a simple, effective interface. It perhaps doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but in paring its battle mechanics down to basics and utilising a smart ‘time-bar’ system, it’s apparent that the developers have borrowed with care.
What emerges is a simple yet intriguing tale told entirely through the use of rhyme. Characters you meet on the journey are also well written and do a great job of helping you distinguish and develop their skills on the battlefield. If you haven’t the stomach for such quirkiness then it’s easily skipped, but you’ll be missing a nice little facet of the game overall.
Yet once the hypnotising effect of Child of Light has worn off, some nagging design choices start to seep in as the reality of the world of Lemuria takes hold. Firstly, it was some six hours into play before The Skinny even realised there was a game over screen and that’s no idle boast about our skills. Given that battles are the bread and butter of the game, it’s all too easy to gorge yourself senseless on seemingly endless victories. Nice for a while but ultimately nauseating. It also proves fairly limiting in terms of character development. Ubisoft certainly throw oodles of branching power trees at you, but their effectiveness feels lost in the ever swelling tide of level-ups.
Yet this may be to criticise Child of Light for what it isn’t rather than what it is. Cues may be taken from hardcore RPGs, but by dint of its fairy tale style, this is clearly a game aimed at a different market. The inclusion of an optional, co-operative second player signposts this as more of a family-centred game for causal play in the living room rather than one built for pouring sixty-plus hours into it behind drawn bedroom curtains.
Which is all rather apt given Child of Light’s presentation as a bright and breezy alternative to the stuffy, over-bearing world of RPG’s, which consigns them as a cult concern. With that, Ubisoft may well snare a few players who wouldn’t know their Chrono Triggers from their elbows, whilst casual fans of the genre (if that’s not an oxymoron) may also enjoy the change of pace. True aficionados would do well to leave alone but it’s something unlikely to worry the developers here. Child of Light is RPG-lite indeed, but in the burgeoning world of videogame genres, there’s plenty of room for that too.