Child of Light preview: Storybook RPG plays with dream-like charm
When most games these days are based around shooting things while head-nodding to a rock-out soundtrack, or racing fast cars while drumming techno into your ear canals, it's a refreshing change to play a game like Child of Light.
Imagine unfolding a hand-drawn picture book on your screen and delving into the pages via side-scrolling platformer and turn-based play mechanics. All to a brooding, twinkling piano-laden soundtrack. In Child of Light everything floats along in dream-like wonder, yet the undertone is somewhat nightmarish in its balance of good and evil.
The game is set in Lemuria, a seemingly imaginary world set in the mind of Aurora, a young girl who, as it transpires from the very beginning of the story, has died and ended up in this strange land.
The narration and in-game speech is delivered in rhythmic limerick, one that initially grates but eventually becomes part and parcel of the game's out and out curiousness. Characters only "speak" in written text, which is a shame, as it fails to give Aurora a true character and we found ourselves clicking along at many of these story-telling moments in the game.
On the PlayStation 4 game we tested the controls are simple to navigate the world: the left stick guides Aurora, while your glowing sidekick is handled by the right stick to light passageways and stun enemies when in real-time platformer-like wanderings.
The core of the game takes place in its turn-based sections though. And it's here that apparently simple wanderings become a far more complex web of attack, defence, potion use and clever real-time interventions.
At the base of the screen is a time bar, with each character in a fight represented by an avatar that moves along at pace towards an action line. Once you reach this line it's possible to perform an action; cast a spell, attack, defend, and so forth.
But each character moves along this line at a different pace, some attacks are faster to complete than others, and it's possible to have an action interrupted if beaten to the punch. You need to use a mixture of wit and, at times, luck to master the mechanics. And potions - you'll need lots and lots of potions. If you like turn-based games then Child of Light has got this exactly right.
Winning these battles gives you experience points that accumulate to level-up. In turn you get points to spend on power-ups for you and your comrades which are arranged in a menu screen with a maze-like path spanning out in multiple routes. You can embark on any number of these routes, unlocking single power-ups as you go, but it's best to plan ahead so you can target the best options for your needs. Whether that's to be stronger, have more magic, greater chance against specific attacks and so forth - it's all very detailed.
There's more depth via collectible items, initially gemstones that aid in attack and defence as you associate them with specific items such as your sword and shield. These can be combined under the Oculi menu screen to craft new ones too. Having only spent 90-minutes in the game we've only seen the tip of this - fire, water, earth resistance, for example - but are sure there will be a more considerable range of options as you progress.
If all this sounds inanely boring then it definitely won't be the sort of game for you. But if you fancy losing yourself in another world then there's a definite charm to Child of Light.
It's the artwork and special effects that really sell it for us. Those dreamy drawings play with light and dark to just the right degree and the game unfolds in chapters in storybook fashion.
When there aren't shrieking ghostly sprites floating about on screen that might scare the little'uns, you'll be spotting drunk crows or chatting to frogs in pyjamas. It's certainly got its sense of style mixed in with just the right degree of bonkers.
Equally refreshing is the price tag. The £11.99 cover price will make Child of Light one of those titles that's perfect to dip in and out of to escape the everyday. If you're not sure about turn-based games then here's one to cut your teeth without breaking the bank. If you're an established player looking for a new, stylised adventure then there's hours and hours of play to be had here.
Child of Light is available on 30 April for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and Wii U.