Light is often portrayed as good in life. After all light allows us to see the world, areas that look foreboding seem better when illuminated, and it is during the day when there is the most activity. Darkness and shadows are the unknown and can strike certain fear into people more than the light ever could. So, what if you woke up one day and discovered that any exposure to light would mean near instant death? That is the fate that befalls the protagonist of SUTD Game Lab’s One Upon Light, a puzzle game where you have to use the shadows to get to the exit without stepping into the light.
One Upon Light takes place in a facility operated by Aurora Science in the aftermath of an accident which has seen the building suffer a lot of damage. The main character appears to be alone in the facility and as he comes to and sets off to find a way out he finds that light harms him. Unfortunately for this guy there are a lot of light sources in the vicinity, though luckily there are objects that can be moved around to help create shadows.
The visual style of One Upon Light includes environments that are black, white and grey with a top down view, which allows you to see switches and objects in the rooms around the main character. This perspective allows you to plan your approach for each puzzle within the level so you can get to the exit without hindrance, though there is a lot of trial and error involved with some of the problems.
The majority of the puzzles are easy enough to work out but when it comes down to putting your solution theories to the test it feels like One Upon Light is fighting against you. The most common way to die is not having enough time to pass through some lit areas, which will happen as shadows won’t always hide 100% of light. This means there are moments when the main character has to walk through the light, though doing so slows him down a lot.
Stay in the light for more than two seconds and the character dies, though it did occasionally feel like the timing was inconsistent. Every time there’s a death a sound effect is played though going by that sometimes death would come halfway through the sound, and other times at the end of it. It did make it hard to judge if there was enough time to get through the light at times, meaning lots of retries.
There were also puzzles where timing was everything and if a step was taken too late or too soon you’d be sent back to a checkpoint. There was one puzzle, though in this case the term is used lightly, where a whole corridor was lit and a shadow of an item being transported had to be used to get across. That puzzle depended more on luck than skill or strategic problem solving, and once that area had been conquered the console had to be turned off, lest my annoyance would send me down a path where I’d break a controller.
There were a couple of puzzles like that with another obstructing your view as fans rotated above the character, meaning knowing his exact location at times was almost impossible and stepping into the light unavoidable. These designs impacted heavily on the enjoyment that could be received from One Upon Light, instead lending to frustration as the death animation played once more because timing was off by a split second. In fact it can be argued that the majority of the puzzles that relied on timing took away from the experience due to not being a test of skill, as completion of these came from being lucky in movement.
The sound in the game is very well done as the machinery that is active sounds mechanical, and aurally comes across as loud and brash as most places with heavy machinery do. There isn’t much music in the game and of it the music from the last mission does stand out. The black, grey, and white environments come across as very well done too and varied as well in terms of how the puzzles are laid out. However, the font used for the text between stages to give some insight is horrible and very hard to read.
One Upon Light has approximately 20 levels, and should take around 4 -5 hours to complete provided luck is on your side.
One Upon Light is a bit of a quandary in a way. Technically it is a well crafted game without any bugs in sight. The look SUTD Game Lab has gone for with it stands out well, and works in the context of the game’s setting. The soundwork is also very well done. The majority of puzzles are decent too, but it is the ones that take ages to get past, even though you know the solution, because of timing that remove a lot of goodwill for One Upon Light. There were points where fun wasn’t being had because of them. At the same time One Upon Light feels very mechanical. All the pieces work together well but at the same time it is missing a certain spark. One Upon Light isn’t a bad game, and if you’re a puzzle fan you may enjoy it.