Ever wish life would just slow down a little? I do, several dozen times a day usually, and I find as I get older that this applies to video games, too.
The lovely and languid “Child of Light” ($14.99, rated E-10) is a download-only title from industry giant Ubisoft that goes against the usual industry aesthetic. Instead of frantic combat and bombastic visuals, you get a sweet and somber story with painterly images and artful, retro gameplay.
“Child of Light” tells the story of little princess Aurora, who falls asleep one night and never wakes up. Her father, an Austrian duke, grieves bitterly, unaware that Aurora has been transported to the mystical land of Lemuria.
Aurora’s quest is to reunite with her father – and with the waking world – by helping the people of Lemuria defeat the Dark Queen Umbra, who has stolen the kingdom’s sun, moon and stars. Isn’t that always the way with Dark Queens?
Combat can be avoided
“Child of Light” is a side-scrolling adventure with some limited RPG elements mixed in. Aurora traverses the dreamlike land by navigating foreground obstacles, but it’s the gorgeous background images that linger. Each area you explore – a forest, a village, a cavern – is like wandering through a painting. The minimalist piano score only adds to the gentle ambiance.
Aurora soon meets up with her first companion, a flying will-o-wisp with the entirely excellent name of Igniculus. If you’re playing with a friend, Igniculus can be controlled by a second player, and this is a great option for parents who want to play with younger kids. Aurora eventually gets a set of fairy wings herself, opening up a new vertical plane of exploration.
Additional companions join the party along the way, including a sad jester and a worried gnome whose family has been polymorphed into crows. All party members can draw from a shared inventory that includes variations on the usual array of potions and magical items.
The game uses an old-school turn-based combat system in which tactics depend on planning and sequencing, rather than frantic real-time button-pushing. The fighting sequences are more of a mini-game within the game, actually, and combat can often be avoided entirely.
When you are required to fight, you’ll encounter a menagerie of magical enemies, including rocky giants, fiery hounds and icy spiders. “Child of Light” incorporates an elemental sub-system in combat – creatures of fire, for instance, are vulnerable to water magic, and vice versa. Aurora and her companions level up as the adventure proceeds, unlocking new skills and bonuses.
Exploring and feeling
The RPG and platforming elements are modest, but “Child of Light” is really about mood and atmosphere. It’s refreshing to play a game where the pace is manageable and the designers aren’t afraid to linger on subtle images and moments. The way that the fairy-winged Aurora flies about the screen is oddly calming and almost hypnotic. It was interesting to watch my kindergartner play “Child of Light.” She fell right into its rhythms and seemed to intuit that this isn’t a game about fighting or racing. It’s about exploring and, dare I say, feeling.
The game has one main problem, and it’s a big one. All of the onscreen narrative and dialogue is delivered in rhyme, which is a great idea for a lyrical game like this – in concept. Execution, however, is another matter and the designers apparently hired some kids from the local middle school to handle writing duties.
The tortured poetry is a constant distraction. Several cut scenes consist of nothing but characters trading verse, and I found I couldn’t mash the buttons quickly enough to fast-forward through these passages.
It’s really too bad, because in terms of imagery, mood, music and gameplay, “Child of Light” is one of the year’s best games.
“Child of Light” is now available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U.
New tthis week: The action RPG “Bound by Flame,” the PC strategy sim “Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar” and the latest episode of the popular “The Walking Dead” game, “In Harm’s Way.”