Review: Child of Light (Wii U eShop)

The brush is as mighty as the sword

Listen, dear readers, and we shall recall
our journeys with Child of Light.
The darling of Ubisoft Montreal,
it has become known as a beautiful sight.

Screenshots and videos released to the world
have proven its visuals most stunning.
Yet when the tale is told and story unfurled,
will all its design be as cunning?

The UbiArt Framework is an exciting engine in the ways it can drive creative impulse and carry artistic styles so well to the screen. Child of Light uses the framework to depart from the wacky, cartoonish aesthetics of its Rayman series predecessors and create a painterly storybook world in its stead. The creators have touted Child of Light as a “modern fairy tale,” and it’s a mantle the game wears exceptionally well.

Child of Light is a side-scrolling RPG that centres around Aurora, an Austrian princess who finds herself awakening in the world of Lemuria under unclear yet worrisome circumstances. The mood is set right away with a hand-drawn vista both lush and melancholy, descending into a dark forest below as Aurora sets off to return to her father but is naturally caught up in something even larger.

The atmosphere will change as new locations are found, ranging from sprawling plains filled with windmills to a stilted seaside village; all contain hand-drawn characters and enemies that move much like figures who have jumped off a page. Everything is a treat to explore, and the wanderlust is heightened when Aurora is granted the ability to fly early into the game. Expansive maps welcome this freedom, and the developers have placed paths and items everywhere to goad you into roaming every inch of their creation, as if the sheer beauty of it wasn’t enough.

Aurora will also meet Igniculus, an elemental firefly who serves as a guide, and up to seven other companions who will join her travels. Each is charmingly crafted and bring their own quirks to the party.

Most previews of Child of Light have concentrated largely on presentation and not on the gameplay itself. This is a shame, since the battle system deserves much of the spotlight for how addictive and fun it is.

All battles are time-based and governed by a track at the bottom of the screen divided into “Wait” and “Cast” sections. Fighters and enemies have markers that travel down this same track. Upon hitting the end of the “Wait” section, fighters can choose an action, each of which has a length from “Short” to “Very Long,” that affects the speed of their marker down the “Cast” portion. Reach the end and the move triggers. Only two members of the party can battle at one time, but characters can be easily switched out and Aurora does not have to be a constant presence.

It all sounds simple, and it is, but it’s engaging in the ways the track can be manipulated. If a fighter is hit while casting, before their move goes off, they are interrupted and sent back into the “Wait” area. A variety of spells and abilities can also increase/decrease speed, freeze opponents in place, or defend in return for a faster run down the track next time. Each battle essentially becomes a strategic horse race, and it’s exciting to have one of your fighters swoop past a baddy on the track, interrupt them, and send them back.

The most dynamic asset on the battlefield, however, is Igniculus. Making the firefly glow next to an enemy will slow it down, while glowing him over an ally will slowly restore his or her health. Igniculus has a limited power meter that gradually regenerates when not in use, but can be restored by snagging energy from plants on the field. Outside of battle, Igniculus can also be used to trigger switches, open certain chests, and freeze enemies for Aurora to slip past or ambush.

Igniculus can be controlled with the right stick on the GamePad, but can also be handed off to a second player on a Wii Remote. The aspect is reminiscent of Co-Star Mode in Super Mario Galaxy and offers a great way for younger or less involved players to experience the game. Motion controls are not supported, surprisingly, but aren’t essential.

Fans looking for deep, traditional RPG elements might be slightly disappointed. Weapons and armour can’t be bought for characters, but there is an extensive gem crafting system that awards a plethora of bonuses to attack, defence, and other abilities. Each party member also possesses three long, snaking skill paths to fill in as they level up.

Child of Light also trades the major depth of story found in some RPGs for a narrative and dialogue told almost entirely in rhyme. It’s a bold and exhaustive-sounding move, but amazing in how well it works. Treated more like an epic poem than nursery rhymes, the flow rarely falls into treacly sing-song territory (although there is one character who deliberately trolls the unwritten rhyming rules of the universe). The story of the world and its characters still remains interesting as well, and Aurora’s tale is particularly strong. Far from frilly and helpless, she’s easy to empathize with as she faces conflicting desires and finds her role in the world.

Sound combines with art and writing for the creative triple treat. Piano is at the forefront of most of the game’s soundtrack, with an orchestral accompaniment providing a robust lift; perfect for this manner of presentation.

If there is one gripe, it’s that things seems to tie up a bit abruptly at the end. The game is rather linear and can be completed in about 12 hours, although some side-quests and collection completions can add time onto that. A New Game+ mode is also available after finishing, offering harder enemies but retaining all skills fostered the first time around — certainly plenty of value for money. There’s also the bonus of having a living art gallery in your TV.

Conclusion

The end draws near, we’ve made our case.
Presented to you now, this work of art.
It’s more than just a pretty face:
this game has fun, it has wonder, it has heart.

For its fanciful flights of pleasure
(and rhyming much better than this)
Is Child of Light a treasure?
Dear reader, absolutely, it is!

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