All Hail Shadow

HIGH The unique art style.

LOW The light’s imprecision is frustrating.

WTF I fail to see the point of Greta’s trip.

Projection: First Light quite literally projects a visual, wordless story on the screen using shadows for contrast in a way reminiscent of early cinema or shadow puppetry. The effect is somewhat poetic, and in this third-person puzzle-platformer, the player takes part in a world where visual style comes first, nuances of physics second.

Every structure and character is defined by the color black, as ink on canvas. We play as Greta, a mysterious girl who commits a small crime and receives her parents’ punishment, only to escape being grounded with a small flying light as her companion.

The first few scenes are magical. I was witness to a (presumably) teenage girl clumsily making her way through a town in an adventure about getting as far away from her parents as possible, only to end up in a surreal voyage across cultures and time periods. Greta traverses oceans, forests and palaces in historical versions of Greece, Indonesia and China, among others.

Once the plot establishes Greta’s status as a world voyager, we come to learn the powers of her light. It can create traversable shadows out of textures, objects and items, so long as they’re black — in Projection’s universe, anything black is ‘solid’ and on the foreground of play. The light is essential to progression as its accurate placement on screen paves the way for Greta to advance in platforming style.

In early stages, there’s space for experimentation with the light so the player can learn its reach and application. In later stages, the complexity and difficulty are significantly upped — platforming becomes a life-or-death experience for Greta, shadows must be placed in quick succession, and new kinds of objects like extra lights or extra shadows must be manipulated to make tight jumps.

Projection also offers cinematic passages which kind of assemble a story. These sequences mostly situate Greta within the culture of the country she’s in and she meets flatly-characterized (but sympathetic) heroes along the way. While certainly simple, they help form Projection’s Odyssean atmosphere.

This mix of puzzle-platforming and cinematic sequences won me over quite handily, but there is one detail that had a significant impact on my enjoyment — the light itself is often the greatest obstacle, as it’s prone to zip through the screen beyond control. The slightest imprecision on the player’s part (or the tiniest of JoyCon drifting) can ruin progress in a stage. I wish using the light was a little steadier so I wouldn’t miss jumps or have my path inadvertently blocked by light that’s supposed to help me.

While it was irritating, my frustrations with the light’s lack of precision are certainly no dealbreaker. Projection: First Light is a greatly innovative title with a sympathetic premise and there’s certainly something poetic – artistic, even — in its design. I definitely recommend it, and I’m curious to see what the developers cook up next.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Shadowplay Studios, Sweaty Chair, and Blowfish Studios, and published by Blowfish Studios. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO, Switch and iOS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence. There is little to be worried about as the violence is limited to animation of ancient combat on par with children’s cartoon action.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not offer subtitles as there is no dialogue. There are no significant audio cues and playing it without sound does not compromise the experience. It is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Movement is on the left stick, controlling the light is on the right stick. Jumping is A. Picking up/placing items is X.

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