A puzzle-platformer that began life as a Game Jam project, Projection: First Light uses the power of puppetry as you journey across the globe as a little girl from Indonesia named Greta. Projection: First Light's compelling visual style develops a pleasantly appealing contrast between the characters and background. Presented without any spoken dialogue, the cute pantomiming and pictorial conversation bubbles portray a heartwarming and dramatic story. Greta runs amok across her town, chasing after a butterfly. In the process, she breaks things and wrecks a police car. Being locked in her room by her parents, the butterfly's glowing light shows her a hidden passageway leading outside. Escaping to a nearby forest, Greta comes across a mysterious rundown shadow puppetry theater and finds a shining light that will change her life forever.
Everything about the game's presentation has been meticulously detailed and thought out. The opening area features a sepia tone color scheme (although this changes as you progress), reminiscent of ancient shadow puppetry. As you run through the environments, the backdrops are pulled down and pushed up, just like in a puppet show, as everything from characters to the birds and clouds in the sky are attached by sticks or strings, controlling movement. It is clear that the developers have studied the ancient techniques, reproducing the methods in the game. Characters are fully expressive, walking, fighting, laughing, and communicating with Greta and others.
The glowing ember can freely move across the screen by using the right analog stick. While Greta can jump and run either left or right, her mobility is limited, and this is where the glowing light shines (pun intended). Shadows are cast as you move the light near darkened surfaces, altering the shadows' size and structure based on distance. As a shadow puppet, you cannot cross other black shadows, basically creating platforms for you to traverse through the environments. Place the light directly under a horizontal platform, and the light fans upwards, thrusting Greta into the air. Move the light to a ledge, and it produces an easy to walk across a diagonal angle. Of course, things are much more complicated, as too steep or too shallow of an angle, and you may slide right off.
Across four themed environments, Indonesia, China, Turkey, and England, you'll use this power to make your way through the locales. Just like the start of the game, you'll come across butterflies scattered about. As you play through the story the first time, you won't know how many exist in each area, but once completed, you can go back through the level select and see how many were missed and in what place (although their collection is only tied to an achievement, and doesn't alter the narrative). These offer an additional challenge, typically prying you away from the main path and needing you to use your brain to think of possible solutions. Projection: First Light is the perfect example of gameplay evolution; the further you progress through the narrative. Things start simple, requiring the use of angled sloops and shadow circles that you can ride up and down the environment. Eventually, switches are added, requiring you to place baskets or jars to open gates or doors blocking your path. Later, you'll use these same objects differently, placing them in specific locations, allowing you to cast shadows off these interactable objects. By the time you reach China and beyond, the game adds timing-based puzzle solving, using lanterns that can be lit using the glowing light, providing fleeting platforms that force you to direct Greta with purpose. Falling to your death or making contact with deadly spikes are generally not an issue, as you are reset on a nearby platform. The real problem is when demanding shadow mechanics locks you in place or worst, bugs out, and places you in an unwinnable predicament. If you try and produce a shadow too quickly near Greta, the shadows envelop her, freezing her in place. This is especially a problem when you are trying to push her upwards with the slightest nudge can prevent her from walking or jumping off.
Without the inclusion of a quick reset/restart option, you are forced to quit to the main menu when you become stuck. I don't mean you are stumped on reaching some of the tougher butterflies to collect but actually trapped in a room without a solution. In particular, one spot requires the use of circular shadows to move a jar around an upside-down "U" shape and have it fall towards you, where you can pick it up and safely place it on a nearby switch to open a gate. Instead of having the jar safely drop to my location, it bounced with purpose right over Greta, through the open gate, and down into the next area. Since it wasn't "out-of-bounds," the jar didn't respawn, forcing a full restart. Eventually, you'll come across movable gates that you'll spin a linear shadow around a pivot point to pry open the gate and cross under. Most of the time, this wasn't an issue, but one room, in particular, caused Greta to become stuck in the light gray parts of the environment. Gray signifies objects that can't cast shadows, typically nets and some baskets.
There's also a constant white gradient on the top and bottom of the screen facing inward. It constricts during cutscenes, perfectly framing the sequence, but it is very off-putting during gameplay. At first, I thought my television's backlight settings were messed up, as it looks exactly like severe light bleeding on most modern LED television panels. Then there is the constant audio chime when moving the glowing light around. Since you are consistently on the move, you'll hear it again and again, ad nauseam. Thankfully, the audio effects can be muted in the settings, but then you'll miss anything else the game classifies as a sound effect, but trust me, you won't miss them.
Projection: First Light is a charming tale of a little girl learning perspective and self-enlightenment through various cultures worldwide. The gameplay loop is continually changing as you move through areas, adding new elements such as swinging platforms, fire breathing dragon statues, spikes, massive boulders, and more. There are even a few boss encounters, although the final boss sequence (I won't give too much away) quickly becomes frustrating due to finicky precision controls during a chase scene.Note: Projection: First Light was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.