With an indie game market already oversaturated with remakes and shovelware, it is not easy for developers to create a completely unique gaming experience. After the release of the critically acclaimed title, Limbo, everyone and their grandma has been trying to cash in on that sweet puzzle platforming popularity. In the years since, we’ve gotten to play some incredible platformers including Little Nightmares, Celeste, and Hollow Knight, but not all of these types of games are going to be such classics. The huge number of these games creates a problem. How do developers create unique games without it feeling as though they’re just shoehorning in poor and uncomfortable mechanics? Sometimes they’re able to find a pleasant balance and other times you get Projection: First Light.
Projection: First Light is a 2D puzzle platformer by Australian developer, Shadowplay Studios. You play as Greta, a troublemaking young girl with the attention span of a moth flying around Christmas lights. Immediately upon finding a butterfly outside, Greta rampages across town destroying property and endangering lives in pursuit of the strange insect. Once she’s finally disciplined by her neglectful parents, she escapes into a magical world of light and shadow in search of the butterfly that started all the trouble.
In First Light, you control Greta with the left joystick and you control her brightly lit butterfly friend with the right. Light from the butterfly, when obscured by objects in the level, changes to shadow which is solid and can be used for a number of purposes. As long as you’re able to project the light in the direction and with the intensity that you desire, you can create walls, bridges, elevators, and ramps in order to traverse the levels. Unfortunately, the butterfly can be difficult to control accurately which makes setting up jumps frustrating and time consuming. Beyond that, certain puzzles require moving the light while you’re standing on the shadow, which can cause Greta to catapult across the room or get stuck in the floor.
First Light features unique 2D shadow puppet style visuals. While there’s no dialogue to speak of, First Light tells an impressive story with nothing but body language and facial expressions. The exaggerated behaviors of each character and humorous actions of our protagonist, Greta, contrast the dimly lit, decaying backgrounds well. Background features pop in and out as you explore the sepia environment and each object and character is connected to a thin stick leading offscreen to some implied puppeteer. Projection: First Light is no doubt beautiful to look at and these small details make each level interesting to explore and interact with. The silly characters and fantastical story make the First Light feel like fifty-percent puzzle platformers and fifty-percent childrens puppet show. Unfortunately, while initially calming and atmospheric, the soundtrack gets repetitive quickly.
The soundtrack isn’t the only thing that’s repetitive in Projection: First Light. The puzzles come in only a few unique varieties that are usually reused over and over. While there are unique, thought provoking sections, you’ll spend most of your time angling the light just over a ledge so Greta can climb the resulting ramp or lifting her to even higher ledges by placing the light underneath the floor. While i’d have less of a problem with this if it were easier to breeze through the repetitive sections, the poor controls make each and every puzzle a test in patience and being as steady handed as possible.
As beautiful and polished as the art is in Projection: First Light, the same cannot be said about the gameplay. On several occasions, I was forced to restart the entire game in order to escape some particularly annoying bugs. These mostly included Greta becoming stuck in various walls and platforms with no way out, which often led to me having to replay entire sections of the game. This gets tiresome quickly and whatever charm this cute little platformer once had fades fast. Furthermore, the physics can be erratic and unpredictable. It’s often impossible to tell whether a slight movement of the light will gently lift Greta up to the next platform or launch her at Mach 3 across the entire level.
Despite featuring a unique and extremely well-polished art style, Projection: First Light misses the mark completely when it comes to gameplay. Puzzles are simple and lack variety, the controls are frustrating and unintuitive, and you are constantly in danger of losing progress due to some irritating and avoidable bugs. While I found First Light to be more frustrating than fun, there is clearly potential here. With a little more focus on refining the controls, revamping the puzzles, and fixing the various collision issues this charming puppet themed adventure could have been a classic.