In all honesty, fans of puzzle games will enjoy this experience. It’s a fantastic premise and even better execution. You’ll have fun, but I can not stress enough how crap the last hour of your time will be.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Avoiding beams of light is an interesting premise and offers some extreme challenges.
º The two-button control scheme makes for an easy to play, hard to perfect experience.
º Contrasting black and white visuals are aesthetically pleasing and help with gameplay.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The hardest and most unfair final level ever, featuring an ending that drops like a brick.
º A very short and narratively sparse experience; you can beat it in an afternoon.
º One Upon Light can be a little unforgiving when it comes to character movement.
One Upon Light, this is my love letter to you. In the short time we had together, I just wanted to tell you how much fun I had with your puzzles. It all started with me waking up in a rundown and dilapidated facility, with my character being visibly being hurt by bright light. Your black and white visuals were a brilliant choice in a game where avoiding light is your primary objective, which made visualizing the obstacles easy. Your wonderfully simplistic controls feature only two keys, so it was always easy to figure out which of your buttons to push. Sure, figuring out how to get around your obstacles were sometimes tough, but you never made me feel stupid or that you were making it too easy. One Upon Light, you may have a horrible name, but I could tell from the beginning that you and I were going to have a fun time- so why did my night end in tears?
As I said before, the storyline is pretty simplistic. You play a scientist, who wakes up in a rundown and falling apart building, surrounded by beams of life taking radiance. After a little time, you’re given a tool that not only slows down time but also freezes shadows in their place. As you progress, you’ll find newspaper articles, office memos, and clippings that reveal some of what’s going on behind the exterior of the game. It seems that your company discovered a way to harness light energy, and are looking to use it for nefarious reasons. The story’s vagueness I’m okay with, but the font they choose to use kills me. It’s honestly some of the hardest to read, even when playing on my living room TV. It’s nice that they included some motivation as you try to understand what’s happening here, but to read it easily would’ve been preferred.
The game also has you following another scientist who seems to know what’s going on, but won’t tell you anything. They quickly get away every time you approach and refuse to fill in any of the blanks. All this adds up to an engaging and entertaining storyline that made me want to discover what this all meant. Sadly, your character’s internal dialogue is pretty annoying. He usually just says he has to get back to the lab, but can’t remember anything else. You know, a clear case of ‘selective amnesia.’
Besides that, every other decision is exceptional. The game plays from an overhead point of view but does an excellent job of using height and depth in the placement of the life-taking light. As you move through the areas, you’ll need to block these beams of light from touching you. To do this, you’ll have to move boxes in front of spotlights, use conveyors to transport them around the map, find switches to shut off lighted floor panels, and use your timing to perfectly nail a shadow down over an area you’ll need to walk over. These puzzles feel fresh, and also unintuitive, like a game where you’re punished for collecting coins. It’s genuinely one of the best puzzle games I’ve played in recent years. Your instinct is to trust the light, but one toe in their warmth will lead to your death.
Thankfully, if you accidently step too much into the light, the designers have included checkpoints throughout so you aren’t starting the experience back at the beginning each time you explode in a beam of radiance. Later, the game introduces some pretty complicated scenarios, such as spotlights with spinning construction beams hanging overhead, forcing you to time the spinning out and use your shadow stopping abilities to make it through the visual overload. The levels also feature doors that must be bathed in the darkness of shadow to pass through, leading to situations where you’ll need to position light, only to block it as well. Overall, I love the challenge and overall flow of the puzzles and their challenges. The difficulty curve is almost perfect.
I’m going to rant now. Prepare yourself, because in all honesty, this is probably going to get ugly. I hated- hated- the last level of this game. I doubt anyone play-tested the last stage because I’m sure someone would’ve suggested a free bottle of lube with purchase. Honestly, if you’re someone who gets a kick out of ridiculous challenges in games, then buy this right now. For the rest of us rational people, let me explain to you why this last level had my wife video recording me, as I reverted to a man-child. That’s right- I’m not afraid to admit it- I broke down; weeping, begging a screen to “just let me, just let me,” as I did everything in my power not to throw the controller and console out the window.
Sure, before this, the game had a challenge. But now, you’re running down a long hallway, with the floor falling out behind you. The screen scrolls at a steady rate, as you approach pretty common obstacles. This, of course, isn’t so bad. It’s only when you slip up for the first time and realize that the helpful checkpoints are no longer around. Okay, I’ll just keep pushing forward- I mean, this is the end of the game. Sadly, it only gets harder from there. As you drive onwards, you’ll have to move blocks around obstacles, as the floor falls apart on your heels, which causes you to trip up, unable to move. There are actions the game takes to ensure you’re always just on the cusp of death, and there’s no leeway for a mistake. One mistake, like pushing a block too far, and you might as well just wait for your inevitable death, and then you’ll be restarting the whole level again. Once you get to the point where you’re three minutes in, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to complete the tasks fast enough. You too will be screaming phrases like “I can’t” over and over again, as you slowly tap the controller against your temple.
Then, when you finally get past the part that’s been haunting your sanity for the last thirty minutes, It’ll dawn on you that you have no idea what the next obstacle will be. Will it require moving blocks, using your machine that freezes shadows? Well here it is, and guess what- you flunked it. Back to the beginning for you! Hope you can get past that impossible part that’s made you seriously consider a lobotomy. Honestly, I will forget my children’s names before I ever forget this level’s layout. It demands perfection, and I am but a man- a sad, pathetic man who tried to reason verbally with a television screen. It honestly destroyed my humanity and self-respect.
Then, you break through the nearly four-minute gantlet of memorization and monotony, and then the ending just happens. The developers explain nothing about what was going on in their narrative, and just throws out the end with a generic ‘Congratulations.’ What a horrible way to ruin a perfectly good experience.
You’re supposed to wow me in the end, SUTD Game Lab; instead, you made me regret the fact that I’ll only review a game when I’ve given it my all. You hurt me SUTD Game Lab- and we were having such a wonderful time. I guess looking back, it wasn’t all bad, was it? All your previous levels were well thought out, and none of the deaths felt cheap. Sure, at some points I felt stupid, but when I discovered the solution you made me feel good. But you spat in my face with that ending. I’m sorry One Upon Light, but you can’t take that back. You only hurt me once, but you hurt me badly.