In 2014 Ubisoft released this striking platform/RPG hybrid across a whole bunch of platforms, including the plucky Wii U, and now it’s coming to Switch. This 'ultimate' edition contains all the extra content previously released, including the Golem’s Plight mission, a couple of new character skins and assorted goodies. Child of Light’s art style can still turn heads, although four years on we’re surprised to encounter some disappointing performance dips. Fortunately, they’re intermittent and the game stands up, but first impressions are somewhat shaky.
You play as Princess Aurora, daughter of a 19th Century Austrian duke. She apparently dies and awakens in the land of Lemuria, a place once glorious before the Dark Queen arrived and befouled the kingdom. Igniculus, a gloopy firefly, befriends the girl and journeys with her across the 2D world. The right stick moves him and holding ‘ZL’ illuminates his body enabling him to unlock floating gift containers or cast shadows to solve puzzles (this can all be accomplished via the touchscreen in handheld mode, too). He can also blind enemies or give allies small HP bumps – useful during enemy encounters.
Touching a baddie whisks you to an active-time battle screen. Character and enemy icons run across a countdown bar from left to right. The action pauses when they hit the red ‘Cast’ section and a menu provides standard options for attack, defence, items and the like. There’s a short window between selection and execution before the icon resets to the left, and queued actions can be interrupted in that time. Meatier moves take longer to charge and enemies can employ status effects to further slow you down.
Blinding them with Igniculus slows their progress, enabling you to catch up and strike first. His illumination is tied to a meter replenished by collecting ‘pollen’ from plants around the combat screen, which also net you small amounts of valuable HP and MP. Battles become tense balances of time and resource management as you coordinate cooldowns and attacks. It’s an elegant system with plenty of depth and challenge (Casual or Expert difficulty can be toggled at will).
Only two members of your party fight at any time, although everyone earns XP after winning a bout. Points gained from levelling up unlock bespoke skill trees and it’s up to you how you prioritise each member’s development down the three available branches. A light gem-crafting system called Oculi enables you to gain extra buffs through equipping precious stones and provides an incentive to hunt down missing treasure chests across the kingdom (a collection total for each area is displayed on the fast-travel map). There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, but don’t expect a sprawling RPG experience. Frankly, it’s a novelty to find these systems in a game that doesn’t require a hundred-hour investment – a dozen-or-so hours should get you to the end if you’re not dawdling, but there’s a good few more if you’re down for some light grinding or New Game+.
The people you meet along the way are decent company, and you’ll immediately discover that everyone in Lemuria speaks in rhyming verse, from party members down to economy-obsessed rodent villagers. Now, as card-carrying Banjo-Kazooie fanatics, we are absolutely down for a comical couplet and Child of Light certainly isn’t without charm. That said, it gets mildly irksome, especially when lines don’t scan as well as they might. One character’s ‘thing’ is that she can never rhyme her final line – a cute quirk ruined by other characters repeatedly chiming in with the missing word. Thanks, Captain Obvious, I think we got it!
Still, the watercolour world of Lemuria is pleasant enough to platform around in, and the early gift of flight really adds some magic, further helped by a delicate score (the recurring flute piece brings to mind the brilliant train theme from that black sheep of the Zelda family, Spirit Tracks). Visually, Child of Light remains as lovely as ever on Switch. If we’re being hyper critical, the cell-shaded polygonal models of Aurora and some of the female characters don’t quite match the painterly marionette animation of the 2D characters and scenery. In a game where most everything gels beautifully, that minor contrast is noticeable.
More obvious are the aforementioned patches of slowdown. Things don’t bode well when the controls turn soupy in an early waterfall area, but after bracing ourselves for the worst, we can report it thankfully isn’t a persistent issue. Still, any slowdown seems odd considering framerate issues on last-gen consoles were negligible. A handful of locations across the game seemed to cause problems; the fan’s speed while docked indicates the console is working hard.
Moving Igniculus feels a little cumbersome on the right stick, too, and it’s tough to go back after trying out the touchscreen. However, a second player can take control and help you out in co-op mode. The Wii U version used Wii Remote pointer controls a la Super Mario Galaxy – here it’s the stick on a second joy-con. Similar to Galaxy, it’s a fun little extra and necessitates strong communication during combat.
On the whole, Child of Light is an easy recommendation for those who didn’t catch it the first time round. The ‘light’ in the title sums things up nicely – you get game mechanics usually reserved for massive RPG epics in a concise package that’s as beautifully refreshing as when it was first released. It’s a shame to see framerate hitches – however occasional they may be – but they’re not enough to cast a shadow on this delightful adventure.