Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Also available on: Xbox, Playstation, PC
From Developer Shadowplay Studios and published by Blowfish Studios, Projection: First Light is a 2-dimensional platformer and puzzle game that utilizes shadow manipulation for navigation and problem solving. While the 2009 PS4 title Contrast made use of the ability to become a shadow, Projection: First Light grants you the ability to control a ball of light as you cast shadows off objects in the world. These shadows can be used as solid platforms to traverse gaps and move objects to complete each level. While the level design is unique, the gameplay mechanics feel rough and unpolished, resulting in frustrating glitches that diminish the overall quality of gameplay.
Based in a shadow puppet world, you follow the protagonist Greta on a journey through the history of shadow puppets as she explores different regions of the world: Indonesia, China, Greece, Turkey and 19th Century England. The story begins with Greta donning a backpack and leaving her home. Soon after, she encounters a butterfly and gives chase. Having no awareness of the havoc she is causing, she charges through town. Eventually, Greta's actions cause damage, culminating with her jumping on a police car causing it to roll downhill and crash into a wall. After the authorities take her home, she is sent to her room where she sees the butterfly again, crawls out a window, and the tutorial begins. As you complete that short tutorial where you learn about shadow manipulation, you are given control of a ball of light and begin your journey.
As you progress, you meet different characters from each time period and use your shadow casting ability to assist them in their story. For example, in Indonesia you meet a character who appears to be trying to save his village from an evil warrior. I have to say "appears" because the game includes no dialogue. Rather, characters will use rough sign language to communicate, or you'll sometimes get a picture-based dialogue box that depicts the communication between characters. This seems to work rather well, and it was relatively easy to understand the interactions between characters. At the end of each level you face a boss battle, and once victorious the story takes you to the next level.
Controls are simple: move Greta with the left analog stick, move the ball of light to cast shadows with the right analog stick, use 'X' to pick up and drop objects in different locations, and 'A' to jump.
When I started, the gameplay felt unique and I was intrigued by how this shadow-casting mechanic could be implemented. Unfortunately, outside of the tutorial the shadow mechanic doesn't feel polished. The shadows are difficult to control, and sometimes jump from small to large relatively quickly, Causing Greta and other objects to be pushed off ledges or through solid objects. At times I found myself being pushed through the floor of levels and becoming stuck, which required me to restart the game completely to recover.
There are also instances where you are required to push large boulders using shadows to active buttons and open gates. This is where I had to put the game down and walk away. The boulders and shadows don't seem to interact as expected. At times I spent 10 to 15 minutes trying to move a boulder, which wouldn't physically interact with the shadow. The long repetitive levels don't afford many opportunities to utilize shadows in unique ways, and I found myself becoming disengaged relatively quickly.
Level design is a beautiful mix of silhouette environments that highlight the puppet show design of the levels and characters. The visuals are accompanied by a delicate soundtrack recorded on antique instruments that are a great accompaniment. However, the audio is also a shortcoming that dramatically impacted my ability to enjoy the game. With every movement of the right analog stick a sound similar to a windchime is played. Since the ball of light is critical to progression, this quickly becomes painful to hear. After desperately searching for a toggle to turn it off, I disappointedly had to play with the volume turned down. This is disheartening as the music is quite pleasant.
Unfortunately, after completing the Indonesia levels my game suffered a fatal crash. I was unable to ever progress to future countries to fully review the game. I'm sure this will receive a patch soon, but until then I am unable to give a full review.
Final Grade: C-
Projection: First Light has potential. Level design and music highlight the puppet show ambiance. However, if feels like the shadow mechanics would have benefited from a few more months of development. The challenges I faced manipulating shadows are too significant to overlook. Additionally, the right analog stick chime has to go, or at least needs a toggle to turn it on/off. I wouldn't rule Projection: First Light out and it may be worth picking up down the road, but not until some of these major gameplay issues are addressed.