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Preview: Child of Light

Earlier this week, we were invited to preview Ubisoft Montréal’s latest role-playing game Child of Light on the PlayStation 4. You control Aurora, who wakes to find herself in the mythical world of Lemuria, which has had its sun, moon and stars stolen by the Black Queen. You must retrieve them and find your way home.

Child of Light is a lean gaming experience, but don’t let it fool you into thinking it lacks complexity. While it mightn’t boast Square Enix-style cut-scenes and a vast 3D world, this is a sophisticated love-letter to 16-bit platformers and RPGs of old, with lots to explore and a rich battle system.

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Powered by UbiArt Framework, the same engine that gave us the stunning new Rayman games, Child of Light is an absolutely gorgeous game. It’s restrained at first, both visually and in terms of gameplay. When you begin, Aurora can only run and jump. It isn’t until she is gifted with the ability to fly in the second hour that the game soars (puns!), looking and playing at its best. It’s also at that point that you realise you’re controlling two on-screen characters simultaneously, levelling-up party members, customising items and battling up to three enemies at once without so much as a tutorial.

It has faith in the gamer, and introduces gameplay elements in a gradual and intuitive way. The first and most impactful? Your firefly companion, Igniculus. If you’re playing co-operatively, the second player controls him. In single-player, you control him with the second joystick. Imagine if Navi could move independently of Link in Ocarina of Time, and that’s Igniculus in a nutshell. Igniculus can fly to reach areas you can’t (at least, not initially), and some puzzles require his ability to shine.

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The world of Lemuria is alive, inhabited by NPCs and creatures to battle. There are no random encounters here. If you approach an enemy from behind, you have the tactical advantage in the battle. If Igniculus shines on them, enemies freeze, so you can sneak behind them and force that advantage.

In terms of the battle system, it plays like Paper Mario and RPGs of that ilk. It’s pretty standard fare, using the left thumbstick, you choose from physical attacks, defence or magic, targeting single or multiple enemies. There’s a timeline at the bottom of the screen that charts the characters’ WAIT and CAST periods. If you attack an enemy while they’re casting, you interrupt their action and they’re sent back down the timeline to WAIT. Things start to get interesting with Igniculus. He can collect health, heal party members, but most valuably, he can blind opponents and stall their progression on the battle timeline. This allows you to attack more frequently, and interrupt more often. You won’t win battles by rapidly pressing X, there’s a strong tactical element.

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Child of Light allows you to customise your weapons and characters. You upgrade weapons using the Oculi (gemstones) you find. They can affect your performance, imbue your attacks with magic or make you resistant to an element. Oculi can also be crafted together to create higher quality gems with stronger attributes. You upgrade your characters by unlocking tiles on a grid. You earn skill points with each level-up that let you unlock one character enhancement, from improved stats to new abilities. Each character has numerous spots to begin unlocking from, so you have some degree of control over how your character develops.

The first two hours with Child of Light were promising, and we look forward returning to the watercolour world of Lemuria when the game is released on 30 April for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U and PC.

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About the author

Will Kostakis

Screenwriter, author, gamer and purveyor of all things inappropriate. His new book, THE FIRST THIRD, is out now via Penguin Australia.