I’m a big fan of puzzles and platformers and whenever I see those two genres merged together in one title, I’ll definitely check it out. I usually tend to enjoy games that offer something genuinely new and eye-catching. A great place to search for such projects is Game Jams, which are a potential source of new and interesting game ideas. To my knowledge, I recall the fabulous Evoland by Shiro Games, which was created during a twenty-four-hour contest Ludum Dare.
Side-scrolling puzzle platformer Projection: First Light by Shadow Play Studios is not an exception as it was born as a Game Jam project and turned out to be a gold mine of unique and compelling solutions, which leaves a lasting impression. The use of light and shadow as a mechanic is not a new idea, as we have seen it already in Limbo, but there is a strong and compelling story behind it, which alters the short duration of the game and some repetitive and frustrating gameplay. For me, the most important is that the project was created with soul and some shortcomings are always inevitable.
Story – The things out there in the shadows
You play as Greta, an Indonesian girl who lives in a mythological puppet world. In the introductory sequence, you can find out that this girl is kind of a problem child – in order to chase some shiny butterfly, she manages to keep her hometown buzzing by hitting and breaking objects before reaching her goal. Once the butterfly in hand, Greta is stopped by the police and returned to her parents, who lock her up tight. And fortunately – or unfortunately, the butterfly escapes and leads the girl out of her house for an unexpected world trip. Eventually, she travels to China, Turkey and England.
Each location has its own story and Greta plays an important role in each of them. For instance, there is a group of traveler bandits who are causing great troubles in villages and towns they come across, from hurting local citizens to destroying sculptures. Sometimes she does something simple, like helping cook some fish. All the interactions are done without a simple dialogue nor spoken or written. Most of the communication is done via pantomime and speech bubbles, which assist the deliberately exaggerated gestures animation. However, there is a whole story with those bandits, and eventually, Greta is helping an archer to deal with them. Or at least try to do so. This one, in return, will assist the little girl and will point her in the right direction.
The ending is very emotional and even involves a boss fight. Unlike Limbo, Projection: First Light has a good conclusion. It took me about four hours to complete the game, but it will be much shorter if you will not go after the butterflies. There are 40 of them in total, and although I tried hard to reach them all, it didn’t seem to affect the ending or the playthrough in general. I guess you will get a fancy achievement in Steam, no more, no less.
Gameplay – Everything is about precision
The only thing which is here to assist Greta in her journey is a floating ball of light. The kid itself is pretty helpless, as it should be, and apart from moving forward and backward, it can only jump and carry small baskets and jars. You can move the ball of flight freely on your screen, and once it gets close to certain objects, it creates shadows. Everything relies on simple physics laws. Once the girl cannot jump high enough on a piece of ground, you can simply adjust the lighting and create a diagonal piece of shadow to walk on.
In the beginning, it is simple enough, as you are mostly creating platforms or “bridges” to move forward, but be careful though, the sensibility is really high and as soon as Greta would dive her feet a little bit in the created shadows, she would fall back or in the worst-case scenario die. For instance, the girl would die if she hit the spikes or if a boulder would fall on top of her. The further away, you should be more and more careful to guide the protagonist through certain areas. It can be frustrating, though, I won’t deny. I did two playthroughs and still didn’t familiarize myself enough with this mechanic.
However, the gameplay does not end there. You can light torches, which will create additional platforms for the one you have already done. There are more traditional puzzles like gates; you have to open by placing a jar on a switch. By the way, baskets and jars might come in handy when there is nothing to make shadows of. I was always carrying one around when I was given the opportunity.
Some of the game sections suffer from the lack of precision of shadows mechanics. Especially it concerns puzzles where Greta is not involved directly, for example, lifting a stone from one point to another and placing it on a switch or just removing it from your way. If you don’t place the shadow exactly where it should be, the object would be simply blocked or just go through it. As I mentioned above, the protagonist can be blocked by shadows as well, if you place the ball of light too close or too far from her. For example, you want to go up and place a shadow below her. When you do so, she goes up along with the screen, and if you lift the light ball incorrectly, your “shadow tower” would be destroyed, causing you to start over. Nevertheless, you can overcome each obstacle, but sometimes it is more difficult than it should be.
Audio and Visuals – Clever and Creative
Projection: First Light aesthetics are one of its best features. The idea to build the game around a shadow theatre was really clever. I enjoyed the art style and the way the scenes are presented in a puppet show style. Every character and object is an inky shadow marionette, and, despite being 2D and speechless, it strikes a chord.
The sepia background slides in and out depending on the location and what is important at the moment. The characters are laconic but really expressive, and their gesture animations are fantastic. The only issue I found is the repetitive audio. Even in view of the brevity of the game, a soundtrack with almost no variation was hard to cope with. In the middle of the game, I just turned the sound off as it began to give me some headaches.
Projection: First Light was reviewed on PC via Steam.