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One Upon Light Review

Replay Value:
Overall Rating:
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Rising Star Games
SUTD Game Lab
Number Of Players:
Release Date:
October 13, 2015

While utilizing light in a puzzle game is hardly a unique concept, I can’t recall the last time a developer focused on shadows as a puzzle-solving mechanic. Some games like Escape Plan and Limbo have used shadows as an effective atmospheric component, but One Upon Light takes a more direct approach: In this effort from the Singapore University of Technology and Design Game Lab, players must use the puzzle-solving power of shadow to create traversable paths. Darkness, a common foe in the world of video games, becomes a friend that you must embrace if you wish to progress. It’s an interesting idea and while the production needs some polish and fine-tuning, it’s still worthy of some recognition.

As you might expect, the graphics don’t exactly step to the forefront, nor do they dominate the experience. Because shadow is a driving force behind the game, there is indeed a lot of darkness and therefore, not much will leap off the screen. But as is the case with most puzzle games, you care far more about the design than the quality of the visual presentation. If the puzzles are beautifully designed, it matters little that the graphics aren’t exactly photorealistic. Now, I will say that some of the design here is inspired but there are times when certain puzzles feel somewhat unbalanced (an ongoing issue in the adventure, by the way). But at the very least, the visual uniqueness and effort is intriguing.

The sound, another technical category, also takes a back seat to the concept and core gameplay. Which isn’t to say the audio is bad or unimportant; the sound is a big part of just about any interactive experience. It’s just that this subtle, downplayed sound is simultaneously expected and effective. As they did with the graphics, the developers take a minimalist approach to the audio, and it works because the game retains its emphasis on puzzle-solving and progression. It also helps that we’re supposed to feel some sense of anxiety and urgency, as we’re working our way through a dark, creepy laboratory. In other words, while there isn’t much to actually analyze in the realm of sound, I can say it bolsters the experience in certain ways. It just won’t stand out, that’s all.

You are a scientist and you wake up one day to find yourself in the middle of an abandoned lab. Nobody is around but some strange experiment has gone terribly wrong, and now you just can’t handle light. If you’re caught in it for even an instant, you will die. Perhaps they turned you into a vampire or something, I don’t know; what I do know is that you must stick to the shadows if you wish to remain alive and escape the lab that has frankly gone haywire. As I said above, we’ve often played games that force us to stick to light, or to use light as a helpful tool of some kind. So, it’s interesting to see the flip side, to consider how to create shadow and avoid light. There were times when I felt like I was playing an old school Metal Gear Solid and I was just trying to avoid the searchlights on a battlefield, but that’s a personal peculiarity, I’m sure.

Anyway, the maze of a laboratory is filled with all sorts of obstacles and light constantly threatens your every move. Like with most puzzle games, the farther you go, the more complex and intricate the challenges become. For instance, while you start off flipping a few switches, you’ll eventually move boxes to create shadows and at one point, you’ll receive the handy-dandy Shadow Echo glove. This lets you slow down time, select the shadow of some object, and just hold it in place. When time resumes, the object may disappear but the shadow remains, giving you another safe haven. This opens up previously impassable areas but be wary, because the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly. With incessantly moving lights and plenty of traps to worry about, you’ll have to tread on eggshells later in the game.