One Upon Light Review
One Upon Light is a new indie game that turns the idea of fears on it's head: while most games' enemies lurk in shadows and you find peace in the light areas, a freak accident at a laboratory results in our protagonist suffering a sudden death if he spends more than a second in the light. The stark, monochromatic world makes you genuinely fear the light as you press forward, trying to find your way through the destroyed facility to try to figure out what happened to you and hopefully fix it.
Gameplay is a cross between basic puzzles and precise timing, often requiring a bit of luck. Completing a level results in obtaining another scrap of a notebook that either introduces a new mechanic or tell a snippet of the story. These articles are headlines only, sadly, so the story never gets a chance to go terribly deep.
While the simple top down, black-and-white graphics lend well to the story and core mechanic, they to lean toward mundane at times. There are not too many ways you can design a broken down laboratory in greyscale, so the world kind of muddles together. New mechanics, such as a device that lets you save a shadow on the floor, or strange materials that disappear in the dark, continue to enhance the experience, but I personally got frustrated by trial and error. Many times, I found myself at a branching path, a maze of ways to go, that must be completed in a particular order with no indication of where to start. Death occurs when you get in the light. At times, you have to skirt the light, spending a split second in it. It's risky, but at times the only way to proceed. The death animation surely and subtly slows down the protagonist, and the timing-based puzzles that require near-death skirting the light become frustrating as you die time after time. Find yourself missing a time window, and you can't get back to the switch, causing a forced death. Twice during playthrough I also found myself victim of an atrocious checkpoint system, making me redo two or three puzzles with our plodding protagonist just to get back to the same place and die again. I'd have rather had the story or mechanics add a rewind button to go back where I want rather than pull that one crate across the room again.
These critiques aside, One Upon Light does what it sets out to do well. A fresh take on the puzzle genre, mixing in a bit of story and the tension of a horror game, Once Upon Light weaves a short, thrilling tale. Even though the story is sparse, there is enough there to keep you intrigued. More variety would have been nice, but it would have detracted from the overall atmosphere. A rewind or run button would be great, but might kill the immersion as well. Basically, my main gripes for the game are ones that would change the essence of the game, so kudos to the developers for nailing the feel they were going for.
One Upon Light sticks to the shadows. Without a huge advertizing budget, it could slip through the cracks. Anyone who likes puzzles or a bit of tension in their entertainment may want to shine a light this way...wait...that's bad. Cover it up...wait...umm....well, you understand. Play it!
A copy of the game was provided by the developer for review. It can be purchased on PS4 for $11.99.
Final review score: 3.25/5