Rarely do you ever see light being harmful to heroes in video games. Typically it’s always the darkness that harms them, either as a place evil lurks in or as some sort of physical form that light destroys (like in Alan Wake, to name an example). Sure, a plague of eternal darkness is an obviously a bad thing, but no one ever stops to realize that eternal light could be just as bad, do they? Well, One Upon Light is here now to help balance things out, being a puzzle game where light can flat-out kill the main character. But does this light burn bright with promise, or has it already been snuffed out? Let’s see…
The setup is that after a freak accident, a scientist finds themselves among the ruins of the Aurora Science company they worked for with no memory of what happened, and also that they now can’t come into contact with any direct light without dying a slow, painful death. And seeing as how the company’s remains still inexplicably have hundred of searchlights and spotlights up and running, this makes getting out quite the challenge. Along the way, our protagonist uncovers files and newspaper clippings at the end of each level that clue them into just what exactly the mysterious experiment that caused this accident was about and how their current condition came to be, while being guided along at time by a fellow scientist who is definitely, totally not evil.
Immediately, One Upon Light’s visual style is the obvious first thing to be noticed about the game. Everything has a monochrome black-and-white color scheme, and all of the architecture and props around you has this slightly abstract, off-model feel to it. It all just looks great and perfectly fills each area with an aura of mystery and eeriness as you navigate throughout wrecked offices. It even has slight cartoonish influences that are a particularly enjoyable touch that make things just a tad more surreal.
As mentioned earlier, the plot itself is glimpsed only through small assortments of papers found at the end of each level, not to mention the protagonist’s own occasional thoughts, and interactions with the other scientist. It is definitely enough to keep one intrigued all the way to the end, though. What also plays a part in keeping one hooked is the variety of puzzles included. At first things just start out as a matter of avoiding lights at the right time, but then you have to properly move file cabinets around in order to block lights and clear a path as well, and then you also get an echo device that can keep a lone copy of a shadow made lingering around, requiring you to deal with timing, placement, tinkering around with machines to move things around, and shadow management all at once in some cases. Even for a game that only lasts a few hours, it is a challenging beast indeed.
Unfortunately, part of that challenge can come off as a tad artificial. There were seemingly inconsistent moments where I could cross a small strip of light in order to progress and still survive, and other times the same amount of light was fatal. There were also moments when using the echo device with multiple lights where the shadow that will get created is never shown, resulting in frustration. And to top it off, the main character’s movement speed feels purposely gimped in order to try and build suspense and make sure you don’t outrun things too quickly. It’s reminiscent of The Bridge or htoL#NiQ, other puzzle games that had annoyances which could have been easily solved if their leads would just speed it up a bit, though One Upon Light never came off as bad as those examples, in my opinion.
But one final thorn the game left in my paw is that the game’s striking art style almost works against it in some cases. The grayscale colors and little amounts of detail can actually make it a bit tricky to detect cases where a door has opened, how some machines operate, and even progress bars indicating how far you are in opening that door right before a light swings across and kills you. It looks amazing, but it can also get you tripped up.
In spite of some of the fake difficulty it can throw at you, One Upon Light is fun, especially in unraveling some of the more trickier puzzles. The atmosphere and bits of story can easily help keep one hooked to it, so you may want to give this one a chance if you’re up for a good puzzler. Just don’t blame yourself if you pull the occasional hair out because your character has a lead foot.