Dealing with light and shadow is not an unfamiliar concept to gamers. From pseudo-realistic stealth em ups like Splinter Cell through to more recent and stylized indie affairs such as White Night, the notion of dodging in and out of the darkness is not a new thing. One Upon Light takes this idea and crafts a top-down puzzler out of it, casting players as a scientist following a failed experiment which has caused sunlight to become fatal and thus, he must be guided from one end of the level to the other in order to escape.
From the offset, One Upon Light wastes no time throwing the player right into things. Now, without any sort of real introduction (other than a very brief cutscene), the game relies on discarded newspapers and text monologues to fill in the rather sizable story gaps. The problem with the latter is that the text is a touch too small to enjoy reading, while newspaper revelations feel disjointed and end up being a desperately clumsy way to impart crucial plot points.
Happily though, the actual game itself fares better. With a focus on keeping yourself alive by not wandering off into the light, the developer has concocted all manner of scenarios to keep this core notion interesting. From timing your movement to avoid rays of light to positioning objects to block the light out and allow you to pass, there are no shortage of light-dodging conundrums to sink your teeth into. Indeed, rather than killing you outright, you can actually expose your plucky little scientist to a sliver of light without them keeling over and often, this little trick allows you to scoot through areas where only a tiny bit of brightness exists.
Interweaving the need to stay alive is a number of environment based puzzles which bolster the proceedings. Existing more along the lines of traditional block pushing, switch flicking and timed dash brain teasers, the developer has done a good job of making these puzzles simple to grasp and tackle from the offset, before gradually increasing the difficulty across One Upon Light’s twenty or so stages. Additional concessions to accessibility also abound in terms of how the checkpoints are handled too. Bunched quite close together, dying in One Upon Light, though occurring often, is rarely a source of frustration as a checkpoint is rarely more than a half minute away from your last position.
Speaking of dying, sure enough more impatient players might well infer some degree of trial and error in relation to One Upon Light’s puzzles but in all fairness, this is a game which rewards the observant and the patient, rather than those who rush in hoping to escape certain death on the fly.
Adding some variety to all this light dodging is a device called the Shadow Echo. Primarily built into the puzzles which appear later on in the game the Shadow Echo allows players to effectively capture shadows when they appear, so that they can then be used to progress when the original shadow has passed. It’s a neat little device that adds a clever dimension to the light-evading gameplay, and the developer capitalises on the opportunities afforded by it really quite well.
Where things come somewhat unstuck however is when the question of longevity is raised; One Upon Light simply isn’t long enough. Perhaps this works in its favour though, with a longer game than the one which we have here, it doesn’t seem likely that the developers would have been able to sustain interest beyond its present duration. As things stand now however, I would have liked them to try or at the very least, include some additional game modes to bolster the base experience.
Technically speaking, One Upon Light’s monochromatic aperture lends a unique look, but it’s one that once the initial novelty wears off, barely conceals a lifeless and generic game world that does little to elevate itself beyond its peers. In many ways this is a title that the humble ol’ PS3 could have handled quite easily.
A well-constructed, if overly brief effort, One Upon Light’s narrative and aesthetic arguably require a lot more polish. That said however, look past such flaws and an entertaining and accessible puzzler soon emerges from underneath its tarnished façade.