I usually find myself coming up with adjectives like quirky, funny, creative or, perhaps, entertaining when I start talking about a new, appealing video game I've played. Rarely is my first reaction beautiful. But that is exactly what I thought after slipping into the watercolor world of Child of Light.
And all those other descriptors came soon after.
Ubisoft's puzzle-piecing and turn-based battling RPG gently leads gamers into an eye-pleasing and haunting kingdom. It's a realm of darkness and light, gnarled ancient forests and thump-along talking mountains, a magical world that consistently feels hand-painted and elegant enough to frame and hang on any kid's bedroom wall. It's also a fairy-tale-like place where everyone talks in a lilting rhyme.
A Flame-Haired Girl to Lead Them
This is the homeland of a red-haired princess named Aurora. (And no, she's not that Aurora.) She's a happy little girl who daily basks in the loving attention of her devoted father, the king. Well, she does until her single dad monarch decides it's time to get married again. Soon after his nuptials a mysterious thing happens: Aurora appears to pass away in her sleep one night. And her father becomes deeply heartsick over losing his beloved child.
But the truth is, Aurora hasn't really died. She's been pulled through a magical mirror into the world of Lemuria, a domain that used to be free and pure but is now tainted by the evil of the powerful Queen Umbra. The queen's dark ghosts and creepy-crawly critters have scared away all the light of the land. So even though she's still confused about how she got there, Aurora—unquestionably a Child of Light—willingly takes on the job of illuminating and curing this limping land while working to find a pathway back to her ailing dad.
Along the way, she makes the acquaintance of an odd mix of charmers who help her on her journey. There's the bubble-like firefly Igniculus who aids her in her spread-the-light duties, a pipe-puffing garden dwarf, a circus Jester who can't quite get a handle on the whole rhyming thing, a love-struck archer mouse and several others who join in on the save-the-world quest. Each character has his or her own skills and abilities and is willing to put personal needs aside to stand against evil and fight for those who can't do it themselves.
Fighting for the Light
It's that fighting side of things, of course, that will right about now have parents sitting up and wondering if this game has some nasty bits hidden amidst its loamy meadows and dusty plains. Answer: This is a classically styled RPG when it comes to combat, but it's not really a messy affair at all. Along her travels, Aurora finds a mighty sword that her young arms can barely hold aloft, but you never see her thrust it into any gnarly or spidery enemy's hide. Instead, when she and her party face off against their foes—a collection of creatures ranging from wispy ghosts and snarling jackals to fire-breathing griffins and multi-headed sea monsters—they gather their teams on opposing rock shelves and toss their bloodless slashes, light flashes and spells in one another's direction.
In fact, the turn-based battling system is pretty welcoming to all age groups since it's more concerned with strategy and timing than it is with bloodletting. Character icons move along an attack bar at the bottom of the screen, indicating when each hero and foe will get the chance to stage an attack or throw up a shield. Scoring a quick low-point hit on an enemy who's winding up to deliver a big blow, for instance, will interrupt him and send him back on the bar. So the battles always become about planning your next move and sharpening your tactics, not your blades.
It's the magical, spell-casting side of gameplay that makes me pause a bit more. And we can easily find ourselves in a place of walk-through mirrors and wicked lightning-flash blasts as all manner of mysterious and mythological beasties and beauties gather round. But it's all limited to the good-vs.-evil confines of a fairy-tale world. No incantations or voodoo hexes materialize in this version of magical make believe.
Child of Light becomes, then, a colorful adventuring lesson in what it means to be a loyal friend. While bouncing from tree branch to hilltop and soaring toward danger for the sake of the kingdom, Aurora's adventure demonstrates the stuff that's needed to lead others, and illustrates the joys and sometimes bitter-sweet sorrows of loving well and fully. And it all takes place in a 12- to 15-hour game that's as great to gaze at as it is fun to frolic in.