Projection: First Light Review

Highlighted back in the Summer Games Fest demo event, Projection: First Light showed some promise. It’s use of light and shadow as a mechanic for platforming is far more unique than it’s (admittedly good looking) visual style, aping as it does the likes of Limbo. There’s a solid idea behind it all then, though the implementation leaves a little to be desired.

A short introductory sequence sets the scene, and is presented in similar manner to a Pixar short film; there’s no dialogue, either spoken or written. Instead, the characters are extra expression-filled, with lots of waving arms and exaggerated movements. The stark black characters contrast nicely with the colourfully muted background, and to hammer the more salient points a “speech bubble” will appear, showing an extra animation relating to what is going on. Our character, a little girl named Greta, finds herself drawn to chasing a glowing butterfly at whatever the cost on her way to school. After making a mess of a construction site, a couple of stalls and a policeman’s parked vehicle during the chase she is expectedly chastised by both the victims and her parents and sent to her room – though she was at least successful in capturing the butterfly.

In a burst of rage she breaks its container open at which point it escapes though a hidden compartment in her room. She feels compelled once more to follow it, and it’s here that her adventure begins.

From here on, we have control of both the girl and butterfly. She has a fairly capable jump on her, and is keen to get stuck in exploring the land freely. The butterfly meanwhile is the bearer of the main hook of Projection: First Light; moving it around with the right stick, certain hard surfaces will allow us to cast solid shadows up which the girl can run. It’s an interesting mechanic, and one that offers up plenty of potential.

In practice though, it’s a bit more fiddly and awkward to use effectively. While there are some clever uses here and there – such as moving a pot onto a suspended net to use to create shadow – for the most part it’s a case of lining up the light with a ledge to create a ramp, or putting it the other side of a wall to create a lift. The light is bound by the screen edges, so if we try to jump and miss there’s a good chance the light will have moved out of position causing us to fall further back down.

Our character can remain perched on the shadow while it is moved, and if we go even a pixel too far then the shadow will vanish – trying to line up an edge to carry us across a gap only to nudge it a smidgen too much will also cause us to fall. It’s not always super clear on what will and won’t cast a shadow as well. Trying to move the light into position only to accidently move past an object that will cast often found me accidently sending our hero off of a ledge, or knocking a carefully placed item out of position – and off a ledge…

That’s not to mention the copious times I got stuck in the shadow, either by being in the wrong place, or the collision detection not working quite right – raising her up on a shadow would too often see her ‘sink’ into it, preventing me from jumping or moving at all.

When it works there are flourishes of flair here that are enjoyable. I really like the art style and the way that the scenes are presented in a marionette-style stick puppet show. The backgrounds slide in and out depending on what is important in that moment, while the characters show expressions though movement well. The audio s charming too, even without any spoken dialogue, fitting the theme’s of the areas nicely. Again, the core gameplay idea is a good one, and it’s not without merit, but it falls into repetitiveness quickly, and that’s aside from the glitches and slight awkwardness of using it.

Conclusion

Projection: First Light is a tough one to recommend then. On the one hand it has a lovely visual and audio style that draws us in, and the idea of the core mechanic is great. In practice though it’s too fiddly and unreliable to sustain a several hour+ title, and it likely won’t hold the attention though to its conclusion.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Lovely presentation
  • Core idea is great
  • Expression filled characters that get the tale across without words well
Bad
  • Using the light and shadow is too fiddly and prone to glitches
  • Ideas repeat quickly
6.1
Okay
Gameplay - 5
Graphics - 7.5
Audio - 7
Longevity - 5
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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