2D platform games are the staple diet for many gamers. The ease at which you approach them, the range of difficulty, and the weird and wonderful tales allow there to be something for everyone. So when another title in this genre comes to market, it needs to have that edge to make it stand out. Projection: First Light by developers; Shadowplay Studios and Sweaty Chair and published by Blowfish Studios utilises light manipulation as its USP. We all know that this style has been done to death, so I started this one tentatively, waiting for that feeling of Deja Vu.
Like most titles in this genre and style, this one follows a simple concept. You control a little girl named Greta; she is good-natured and kind at heart, but also has a wild side. The story opens with a simple side-scrolling platform affair. “Yawn” you might say, but hold your horses it evolves quickly. Once you’ve explored the opening scenes, the game takes a turn for the better. The light manipulation takes centre stage, and the difficulty ramps up.
It’s not just your standard fare.
Though the base mechanics will be familiar grounds for lots of you. The story and aesthetics deliver something that is far from standard level. The game revolves around the shadow puppet world. A delightfully over the top production of landscapes and characters unfold before your very eyes as you are sent on a trip around the world. The plot and all emotive aspects are explored with the use of; body language, imagery and sound. No text or spoken dialogue is applied, which may be odd to some, but it worked beautifully in this setting.
Shadow puppetry has long been used to entertain the masses. Lighting and placement help the puppet masters create scenes with the shadows that are cast. The artists that perform these shows do not get the recognition for the work they create. The skill that is required is extremely high because of the technical demands. As you explore Projection: First Light, you will soon appreciate it, as casting shadows is a much harder task than first anticipated.
Lots of shadows and a touching story.
We all know that shadows can only be cast once a light source is supplied. Greta solves this issue when she goes all out to capture a beautiful shining butterfly. Her path to getting this awesome specimen causes much destruction and trouble, but the effort was worth it. Sent to her room for her troubles, she accidentally smashes the jar containing the insect, and it escapes through a tunnel. By following it, Greta begins an adventure that she won’t forget. Many continents are visited, people are seen, bosses are overcome, and shadows are cast.
The main mechanic of light manipulation asks you to control Greta and her butterfly together. The shadows that dance on the ground forge new paths for her to traverse. Pots can help to reach new heights, or to create fresh routes. The darkness is used to move objects and boulders as well. Closed routes can then be opened using switches and plates. Though these ideas are not new, the use of light beams to move items is equally interesting and challenging.
The beauty keeps you playing.
If it wasn’t for the; stunning settings, in keeping style, and touching audio, you’d probably stop playing. The difficulty and game mechanics evolve at a slow pace. You are drip-fed with slight changes as the tale progresses, and this is just about enough to keep you interested. As a concept, it felt flat and overused. All too often the solutions were easy to find, removing the need to think about the situation. The only difficulty for me at least was the triggering of the switches. This action required finesse and patience, and I wish the developers had pursued this avenue across most of its puzzles.
I instantly forgave these shortcomings, however, as this title is a thing of atmospheric beauty. A simplistic yet stunning land rolls into view on every chapter. The character models have a tribalistic design which matches the history behind the puppetry. The minimalist colour scheme and sepia wash adds to the moody scene. The 2D fixed perspective gives you a limited view of each level, but this restriction doesn’t impact the gameplay at all. It’s an amazing clean-cut title that does the basics extremely well.
My first hour with this game was a sombre time. It took me a moment to realise why the game was striking such a chord with me. Then I realised the gentle background music was calmly playing away, adding layers of emotion without really trying. The music develops and changes in perfect harmony with the action portrayed on the screen. It never missed a beat and rarely did I sit up and take notice as it was happy to take a back seat. With no spoken words, the audio was always going to be key, and it didn’t fail to deliver.
I’ve never thought of a shadow as annoying!
The aforementioned opening scene acts as a short tutorial that explains the fundamentals. Once you’ve gotten past that, you are free to experiment with moving the light. Shadows are cast using any solid surface, and distance and positioning play a key part. The idea is straightforward, yet the execution can frustrate. Success is delivered by minor movements. One degree in the wrong direction and Greta is catapulted into the air, or engulfed by the darkness of the shadow you have cast. The implemented system isn’t hard to understand or learn, it’s mainly the finer points that let it down.
The butterfly is a consistent theme throughout and acts as a collectable item. Most stages have them hidden out of reach, where pots and new paths must be used to grab them. Though unnecessary to complete the game, it adds a layer of replay value for anyone who wishes to complete the moderate list of achievements. With the standard levels to complete, and some bosses which add to the excitement, this one will take you around 10 hours to complete, if you can get to grips with the light issues.
Beautiful design, but an old concept with a twist.
I cannot stress enough how wonderful Projection: First Light looks. It’s a well-rounded piece that uses an unusual twist on an old concept. The style reinforces the history behind puppetry, and the graphics and audio create a lush and emotive landscape. However, its key mechanic is its main drawback, forcing it to plateaus early as a consequence, and this impacts the desire to play. Do I recommend it? I do. Only because it’s a masterpiece to look at and listen to. If you want a copy, it can be purchased here! Be warned though, you’ll be balancing beauty with frustration. Can you help Greta manipulate the light and travel the world? Patience and a glowing butterfly are all you need to succeed.