There’s nothing worse than seeing a game not getting the love it deserves. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve never heard of this Child of Light game,” you’re not alone: the game was barely advertised and most—if not all—publicity was generated by word of mouth. This isn’t any surprise; I mentioned in an earlier post how games directed more towards a female audience receive much less advertising in general than games that are clearly intended for a more male-centric audience. And unless produced by a larger name developer, indie games don’t really get advertised anyway. Though Child of Light has that indie feel, it doesn’t change the fact that the game was still produced by Ubisoft. Not only that, but by their largest development studio—Ubisoft Montreal—as well. There’s no excuse for the lack of company generated buzz. I mean, look at it: wouldn’t you want to hype this game?
Let me tell you now: the game is just as gorgeous on-screen as it is in the YouTube video. Child of Light has the player adventuring through a fairy tale not unlike something out of the Brothers Grimm or even Disney. The backgrounds and pieces of the setting that you can actually interact with are both marvelously detailed and really show a level of love and care that I wasn’t honestly expecting. Additionally, the watercolor aesthetic lends itself perfectly to both the fantasy/fairy tale feeling of the story and the idea that you’re playing through a land that isn’t entirely real. It’s real in the sense that you wouldn’t be able to find this place in real life; as the heroine states at the beginning, “I must be dreaming,” and indeed, the world captures that dream-like feel.
While I could gush more about Child of Light’s art, I need to talk about the story. Not simply because this is a review and that’s what happens, but because it’s so different than what I was expecting. Our heroine, Princess Aurora, once lived happily with her father, both sustaining each other through the untimely loss of her mother, a glittering, mysterious queen of light. However, her father took another bride and not soon after, Aurora died. Or, as the game cleverly puts it, “for all intents and purposes, [she] was dead.” Whether or not Aurora was actually dead was one of the largest mysteries for me heading into the game: since Child of Light is a fairy tale, she could simply be cursed. No matter the semantics of the situation, however, Aurora wakes up to find herself in a mysterious land shrouded in darkness. After picking up her a sword she finds in the middle of nowhere and venturing through the dangerous forest, she is tasked with the quest to stop the nefarious plans of the queen of darkness, Umbra. More importantly, Aurora must bring back the light—consisting of the stars, moon, and sun—back to this unfamiliar land; only then will she be able to reunite with her father.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing incredibly new about this plot, but there doesn’t have to be. It might sound a bit trite to say, but Child of Light isn’t about the end goal, it’s about the adventure. Of course Aurora is going to complete her quest, but it’s how she changes and grows up during her quest that really matters. And honestly, this is a story that young girls need. We have plenty of tough women like Black Widow hitting the big screen these days, but while she’s certainly someone to look up to, I wouldn’t say that Black Widow is a woman that younger girls can necessarily relate to . And some girls just don’t get into the whole superhero badass scene, and that’s okay.
This is why having a diverse set of stories—no matter your gender or race—is so important. Aurora is no doubt a compelling character, but above that, she’s a relatable character. She knows just as much information about the situation as the player does, she doesn’t have any incredible powers until she learns them from perseverance, and she wants to make sure the person who cared for her most is safe. Aurora gives the player—especially players who are younger girls—the autonomy to save themselves, rather than relying on the tired cliche of a princess waiting for a prince (or maybe a king) to come save her. Her father is the one who is incapacitated by woe, and Aurora must free herself and him from their situations. All in all, this isn’t a princess story so much as it’s a fairy tale about the process of growing up and trying with all your might to reach your goals. And those stories are so, so important.
Taking a more nuanced appreciation for the gaming audience, Child of Light truly treats said audience like adults, which makes it even more of a crime that this game wasn’t really advertised. I really do think that this game can be easily enjoyed by anyone: any age, any gender. The actual game mechanics are simple, sure, so if you’re looking for some in-depth complicated battle system you’re not going to find it here. However, you do have a say in what skills Aurora and her party members have—there’s a very basic level up point system where you get one point every time you level up, which you can then put into a skill to increase your powers. Additionally, the puzzles aren’t anything that will have you scouring Google for the answers, but they do make you think a bit. The most important aspect, however, is that Child of Light doesn’t dumb down its content just because younger kids may be playing. Though its narrative may be presenting in cute rhyming couplets, there is no doubt that Aurora is possibly fighting for her life in more ways than one and that her world may face the same fate as this dream world if she does not act. These are some heavy issues, and as the game makes sure to not let you forget how dangerous this dream land is, there’s always a palpable sense of foreboding.
I do have one complaint. Early on, Aurora gets a firefly companion by the name of Igniculus. It can use its light to stun enemies, open doors, light dark passageways, and so forth: it’s the tool by which you solve most of the game’s puzzles. However, controlling it is a nightmare if you’re playing single player on the WiiU. There’s also the option of playing a two player mode where one person is Aurora and the other is Igniculus, but I can’t help but feel that the one who controls the firefly gets the worse part of the deal.
Nonetheless, if you’ve been on the fence about trying this game, this is your sign to finally buy it. If you’ve never heard of this game, this is the clouds parting with divine revelation (oh yeah, I went there). You can buy this game for practically any system: PC, PS3, PS4, WiiU, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Every ounce of support Child of Light gets further proves that we, the gaming audience, both want and will support more games like this. More games with female leads. More games that take chances with their mechanics and story. Even if developers are seemingly willing to let their games die a silent death from silent advertising, we need to shout back at them that this is what we want in games. Child of Light may be a small step, sure, but it could also be a vital one. Only the future can say.