'Child of Light' Hands-On: A Playable Fairytale

Plenty of games feature magic and curses; it's rarer to see one whose lines are all verses. Yet nearly every line of dialogue rhymes in "Child of Light," an upcoming video game by developer Ubisoft that was inspired by medieval fairy tales. It's scheduled to release April 29 for PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, Wii U, and PC (price not yet announced).

"Child of Light" combines a side-scrolling platformer perspective with the turn-based combat common to classic role-playing games (RPGs) such as "Final Fantasy." We played a demo at the recent video game conference PAX East in Boston, and we loved the game's unique storybook-like art style, charming protagonist and, of course, the rhyming.

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A young girl named Aurora stars in "Child of Light," and in keeping with the macabre nature of classic European fairy tales, the game opens with her apparent death. After falling ill, the young Aurora wakes up in a dark forest full of monsters. Initially distraught and crying for her father, Aurora soon acquires both a sword and, in Igniculus, a companion. The small, glowing blue fairy advises her on her journey.

Whenever Aurora talks with Igniculus, or with any other character she encounters on her journey, the dialogue forms rhyming couplets, which gives "Child of Light" a charming, fairytale-like feel.

These parts of the game have a side-scrolling perspective and include puzzle-solving elements. For example, Igniculus (who you control with the video game controller's right analog-stick) can use his light to illuminate dark places or cast shadows. His light can also frighten enemies, allowing Aurora to walk safely past without starting a fight.

If you do get into a fight, however, the scene changes to one more reminiscent of an RPG. Aurora can attack with either her sword or various magical spells (which cost magic points), and when she's attacked in turn she'll lose health points, depicted on a meter in the upper left side of the screen. The combat isn't exactly turn based; rather, both Aurora and enemies can attack after a certain amount of time, so players need to think quickly or risk letting enemies get too many blows in. 

All of this is fairly typical RPG fare, but Igniculus adds several new aspects to the combat that make "Child of Light" unique. For one, players can steer this character around the field of combat to collect the magical flowers that restore Aurora's health and magic. Or, players can position Igniculus over enemies and use his light power to slow down foes' attack speed, letting Aurora finish fights without suffering as much damage.

Aurora also earns experience points from battles, which cause her to grow levels. Each time she rises in level, she can unlock a "skill," such as increasing her magic points or acquiring a new spell.

Combat aside, "Child of Light" is the rare modern fantasy that manages to tell a medieval-themed story without channeling the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. The game's main writer, Jeffrey Yohalem, previously won a Writers Guild of America Award for his work on "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood."

Our 30-minute demo at PAX East barely gave us time to scratch the surface of "Child of Light." Capturing both the innocent beauty and looming danger of classic fairy tales, "Child of Light" is a game to watch.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.