Child of Light is a puzzle-platformer featuring turn-based combat that developer Ubisoft describes as “a playable poem”. It's a promise its rhyming dialogue and enchanting watercolour landscapes look well equipped to fulfil. The game takes place in the mystical kingdom of Lemuria, where – in a plot similar to Sony’s excellent Puppeteer – a Black Queen has stolen the power of the sun, moon, and stars. It’s up to sword-wielding heroine Aurora – who may or may not be dead in the real world – to seek out and defeat the Queen.
Aurora’s shock of red hair flows behind her as she runs through a fairytale landscape of forests, hills, ruins, and caves. The influence of sibling series Rayman is clear: pickups emerge in arcs from plants, and there is even a Murfy-esque firefly called Igniculus that may be controlled with the right stick or by another player.
The game’s foreboding atmosphere and early mechanics also immediately bring to mind Playdead’s fantastic puzzle platformer Limbo, but despite its obvious influences, Child of Light is decidedly its own unique concoction.
Combat is initiated when Aurora touches an enemy, at which point they are both transported to a battle screen for a unique take on turn-based comabt. It's all based on a timeline along which icons for the player and each enemy move from left to right. When the player gets to a coloured zone near the timeline’s right end he or may choose an action, which is completed when the icon reaches the very end of the timeline.
The speed at which a icon moves through this coloured “action” section depends on the speed of the chosen activity, and this ranges from immediate (drinking a potion) to slow (performing powerful spell attacks). Should a character be hit while in this coloured zone, its action will be interrupted and it will be sent back to the start of the timeline to try again. This goes for both the player and AI, but may be countered by choosing to defend at the opportune time rather than to strike at an opponent.
As you would expect, enemies move along the timeline at differing speeds, but the player also has the option of slowing the progress by using Igniculus’ rechargeable light attack to blind enemies. There are further nuances: some attacks stagger an opponent setting them back on timeline, and being snuck up on in the platforming sequences of the game will grant the ambusher a free swing.
Stats including health, magic points, strength, defense, and magic defense determine the power of a sword strike or spell, and these numbers are increased through items found in the world, or good old-fashioned levelling up. When the latter occurs, there are also skill points to spend across three linear paths of about 24 nodes each. Some nodes confer new spell abilities to Aurora, while others are simply stat upgrades.
There is also a crafting mechanic, wherein gems called Oculi may be fused together and set in weapons for bonuses such as fire attacks, which are good against earth-based enemies but weak against water-based. There was one other power gained in our play time that drastically changed the game’s platforming mode as well, but the less said about that at this stage, the better.
It’s likely critics won’t be tongue-tied when it comes to finding positive things to say about Child of Light come release, however. The game’s rich art, beautiful animation, and accessible yet deceptively complex mechanics have us strongly anticipating its arrival at the end of this month.
Child of Light is out on April 30 for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 (Cross Buy), Wii U, and Windows PC, for AU$20.
There will also be a Deluxe Edition available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC that comes with a poster, art book, key ring, and bonus digital content, all for AU$30.