[Review] Projection: First Light – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Shadowplay Studios
  • Publisher: Blowfish Studios
  • Release date: 29/9/2020
  • Price: £15.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by Blowfish Studios

Introducing Projection: First Light Switch Review

With the dawn of a new console generation upon us and everyone talking about power and tflops again, I’ve been grateful that one of the conversations that is falling to the wayside is the conversation about graphics. I think most of us have gotten to the point of realizing that games are reaching the pinnacle of their ability to replicate reality and there are other ways to make us go, “Wow! That looks beautiful!”

Lately, there have been a lot of games that are banking on a unique art style. That’s what drew me to Projection: First Light, the promise of a game that not only had a unique art style, but harmonized that with the gameplay.

Dim the Lights

Projection is the story of a little girl named Greta, a small shadow puppet in a world filled with other shadow puppet people. She’s a fairly typical kid that starts out her day getting into typical kid mischief. Her pursuit of a butterfly and attempt to capture it lead to more trouble than usual though, when she accidentally sends a police car careening down a hill to crash. Though this is only the final stop in a trail of minor destruction. After being sent to her room while her parents sort things out, she runs away into the woods and stumbled upon an abandoned theater. There must be some kind of magic here though, because when she comes out on the other side, she’s in Indonesia, only the first stop on a globe trotting adventure.

What’s brilliant about all of this is that there is absolutely no dialog for anything. Like a traditional shadow puppet show, everything is told to you by the movements of the characters and the music that accompanies them. Everything comes across excellently. There are a few moments where there might be your typical speech bubble over one of the characters, but even there, what they are saying is gotten across with small pictures rather than any words. Perhaps my favorite example of this silent storytelling early one was when Greta encounters other people in the Indonesia section and you can see her silently learning a piece of the culture to avoid offending people. It’s just excellent and while I would never dare to say that this could work for every game, it does work here.

Despite the fact that Greta is constantly on a journey herself to find her way back home after her transportation, that’s not the only story that is to be found here. Each of the 4 locations that Greta travels through has their own mini-story that runs through and provides the reason or method for continuing onwards. Some of these are based on legends of the area in question so a little bit of an education on mythology wouldn’t hurt. Even if you aren’t familiar, I don’t think it would be terribly hard to follow, I personally never felt lost.

Draw the Curtain

How is Greta to navigate this big wide world, though? She’s just a child! That’s where the orb of light that is travelling with her comes in. This light is able to cast shadows, which to a shadow puppet like Greta, are just as solid as anything else in reality. This leads into the main puzzle solving mechanics of the game, with Greta picking things up and platforming in order to get around and the light making the very platforms that she is able to use in order to do so. This actually can get pretty tricky in some areas where you have to be precise or the way that things look initially is actually completely different than how you should be approaching it. Add in hidden and not so hidden butterflies for Greta to collect and it’s a dream for completionists. The way the art style and the mechanics tie in together is really lovely and I really wish that I could say it was a joy at all times.

However, there are some issues. There are times where casting the shadow will envelop Greta instead of moving her out of the way. This is understandable as an accidental twitch of the right stick could send her flying off a platform on accident in cases of rapid shadow change. That being said, Greta still has a tendency to get caught on shadows. Often, you will have to put the light under a platform in order to cast a shadow upwards under Greta and lift her higher to reach something. When doing this, Greta’s feet can get caught in the dome of shadow that is created, meaning that you will have to lower and then lift it again in order to get her unstuck. I could forgive this once or twice but it was something that happened on a fairly consistent basis throughout the game. I think that Greta’s jump is just a touch too weak as well. There were many places where I felt like a jump was meant to be something that she could make, but I would end up just barely making it (perhaps even after a few attempts).

I was pleased to see that there was an option in the menu labelled “accessibility”. This is very much a growing conversation in games and seeing smaller games take on these adjustments is always something that I appreciate. There is really only one option under this heading and that is to adjust the speed at which the game runs. This doesn’t affect your movement of the light, but instead the speed at which Greta moves, giving a little more time to react or to move to create a platform on the other side. All of this, with no penalties from the game as far as I could see.

Pure Artistry

The look of the game is what drew me to it initially and I think that is what is going to stick with most people more than the gameplay itself. There were points where I was honestly considering if art direction alone could make up for minor gameplay quibbles that I had. I’m still not entirely sure as I write this. There was just so much that I loved about the game from the beginning and kept me going even when the game mechanics had started to wear on me. It’s not often that I take way more screenshots than I need for a review to the extent that Projection is cluttering up my switch’s galley at the moment.

The shadow puppet effect is downright delightful at first glance, but what you can’t see in the screenshots that I am sharing with you is the way that the backgrounds move ad shift as you move through them. The first layer that you interact with for your platforming just moves from side to side as you guide Greta along. In the background, other layers will rise and fall out of existence. It helps everything to feel more dynamic and gave the impression that more distance was being travelled at times.

I was particularly delighted to see that each of the places that you visit on your journey has a lot of unique elements to the design of the area. There are a lot of repeated elements, such as netting, thanks to this being a smaller scale game. There are still many distinct elements in each of the locations. The puppet people that you meet along the way are also incredibly distinct! I am not educated enough on the subject of shadow puppetry to claim that the design of each of these characters is based of the real shadow puppetry of the region, but that was certainly the impression that it gave me. I’m curious to look more into it now that I’m all done, though. It’s always great when playing a game leads into learning new things!

Momentarily Delayed

Everything ran perfectly fine no matter where I played it, but I did run into one technical problem while I was playing. The areas of the game are divided into smaller levels, the division of which serves as the save points for the game. There was one level where, about halfway though, the game just started to really chug along, running as though I had set the game to half speed in the accessibility options. It was very strange and vanished when I moved on to the next area. While this was the only bug that I ran into, it did significantly affect my gameplay for a little bit, which was a cause for concern.

Returning Home

Knowing that this started as a game jam project does have me rooting for Projection in a “little game that could,” kind of way. I’m curious what this team will bring forward next since this was delightful, even if there are a few snags that held it back from perfection. It’s good enough that it’s easy for me to immediately recommend for fans of puzzle platformers, but I will have to warn that it won’t be for everyone (even if it was precisely my cup of tea.

Pros

  • Utterly gorgeous art and character design
  • Challenging puzzling
  • Excellent non-verbal storytelling

Cons

  • Some minor technical problems
  • A few gameplay struggles

Verdict

The art of this game glimmers brightly enough to hide away some of the gameplay flaws for a thoroughly delightful time!

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