One Upon Light
is a project to come out of Singapore University of Technology and Design. Released on Playstation 4 in Japan and South East Asia back in October 2014, the developer teamed up with publisher Rising Star Games to bring the game to western audiences a year later. The game's title is a way of expressing the inverse of light, otherwise known as darkness, which is a key theme in the isometric puzzle title. Will this title keep to its favoured shadows, or will it brave the glare of the spotlight and make its mark amongst players?
Players assume the role of a mysterious scientist who awakens from period of unconsciousness to find himself sprawled on the floor of a dilapidated science laboratory. As he staggers up the corridor to try to find a way out of the building, he crosses a beam of light created by one of the spotlights that is still shining brightly. Unfortunately, this has a horrible reaction because, for reasons unbeknownst to the scientist, he now has a fatal allergy to both natural and artificial light. If he comes into contact with light, he experiences a few seconds of intense pain before he dissolves into a cloud of glowing ash. Not only does he have to find a way out of the building and perhaps find out why he is there in the first place, now he has to do so by avoiding all light sources.
The levels start simply. Cross this short beam of light here. Time your move with this swinging spotlight there. This is followed by the need to move simple objects, like cabinets or carts on tracks, to create shadows or even to create new sources of light. By the time that players get to the later levels, players will need to toy with light sensors on doors, conveyor belt systems and touch pads, as well as the careful use of their ability to record shadows via the Shadow Echo system.
That lever does something, but how do you get there?
While this sounds complicated, each new feature is introduced gradually and the game never offers any red herrings to try to trip players up. Every lever has a purpose and every cabinet will eventually need to be moved -- players just need to work out when and where. The light sources also behave exactly as you would expect a real life light source to do with realistic shadows and light that expands outwards as you get move away from its source. When combined with the game's monochrome appearance that makes it obvious as to what is light and what is shadow, any mistakes in the puzzle solving feel like like an error of judgement, rather than something unexpected that the game decided to throw at you.
That isn't to say that you won't die a lot and your grey cells will get a fair amount of exercise. While some solutions will be obvious, others may take a bit of trial and error, expecially during the sequences that involve less thinking and more twitch reactions. Towards the later levels, a swinging spotlight may require precision timing and precision placement of Shadow Echo, something that will take numerous attempts and a lot of patience (or a lot of luck) to do. Luckily, there is no penalty for death - you'll just respawn at the nearest checkpoint - but that doesn't stop the feeling of frustration from missing the correct placement by the smallest of margins.
This bit will likely make you cry.
At the start of each level, the game shows players the light at the end of the tunnel or, less figuratively speaking, the level's exit door towards which you need to head. Lying on the floor at this exit is a newspaper; it is through these that players receive the background of both the laboratory and the scientist himself. Unfortunately, these newspaper articles only give players a headline or a partial dossier with few details and do little to fill in the gaps in the story. As this is all that you will get in terms of storytelling, you'll be left with more questions than answers.
At the end of 20 levels and 5-6 hours of puzzle solving, the game offers a choice of two endings depending on your actions at the end of the last level. The first ending offers little more than an end screen and is a bit of a teaser for the second ending, which requires a bit more work but offers a cutscene explanation for the events throughout the game. Taking on the appearance of one of the old black and white movies with little more than the odd sound effect, you're left to put your own interpretation on the events that have just happened and, like the newspapers, this also doesn't do a great job of answering questions. You're left with a game that feels like it is not much more than a series of "escape the room" situations, which is a shame.
Read all about it in the newspaper clippings. This one has more detail than the norm.
We'll finish with the game's trophies. This game doesn't carry a Platinum but will be easy to complete. Of the seven trophies that the game does offer, two are afforded to the game's alternative endings. The other five are related to completing the game's levels and are unmissable through natural gameplay. This means that players should be able to grab a completion just by finishing the game once in its entirety and then replaying the final level through level select. Having said that, we had a trophy that failed to unlock at its designated point, meaning that we unlocked two trophies in the wrong order. We're unsure whether this was because of too many deaths during the level or just because of a fluke, but we had to replay the level to unlock the trophy.
This game is a fairly competent puzzle title. Its simple monochrome appearance offers an obvious contrast between light and dark, meaning that hazards are obvious. Starting out at simple solutions and finishing with puzzles that require several steps to solve them, players will face a challenge that gets gradually more difficult as they progress but always has a solution within reach. That isn't to say that you won't get frustrated at times, especially with the puzzles that require precision timing and placement. Unfortunately, the game's plot is failed by lacklustre storytelling, meaning that players will be left with more questions than answers. On the plus side, the game offers an easy completion for trophy enthusiasts.
- Gradual difficulty
- Puzzles with few frustrating points
- Effective monochrome graphics
The reviewer spent just over five hours lurking in the shadows and sneaking through the darkness to earn all 7 of the game’s trophies. She empathises with the scientist as she doesn't really like the sun either, and dazzles everybody with her white legs. This copy of the game was provided courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of the review.