Projection: First Light

6 Overall Score

Unique & gorgeous art style | Silent narrative (no text or dialogue) increases accessibility | Fresh concept

Light control is finicky at best, maddening at worst | Physics occasionally broken | Unsympathetic main character | Forgettable soundscape

This is going to be a difficult review to write. Over the past few years, we’ve demoed Projection: First Light (previously titled only Projection) at PAX weekends—most recently last month during PAX Online—and each time, offered  up nothing but glowing reviews for the concept, the artwork, and the gameplay. It was “game of the show” for us on more than one occasion. We were thrilled that the full version was finally releasing, and eager to enjoy more of what this title had to offer.

And now after spending significant time with Projection: First Light, we realize… we need to take off our rose-colored glasses. Step back from the bias of previous views. Because while I (Faith) enjoyed most of the time I spent with Projection: First Light and pushed through the game despite numerous frustrations, I have to admit that most of my momentum and willingness to continue came from bias over the previous demos. If I hadn’t enjoyed those demos so very, very much… I might have stopped playing within the first hour.

Let’s examine that.



In Projection: First Light, you play as Greta, a little girl who gets into considerable trouble from the outset. She breaks and destroys things (someone’s car, someone’s marketplace stall, etc) while trying to catch a glowing butterfly, and is sent to her room for punishment. While there, she gets angry and accidentally releases the butterfly which shows her a secret passageway out, so she runs away and gains the ability to manipulate a ball of light to create solid shadow platforms. Presumably, by the end of the game (which we didn’t quite reach), her story will be resolved and the family will reconcile—but at the outset, she’s not exactly a main character you love. She isn’t given a sympathetic angle, either. Yes, she’s just a kid, but most kids don’t go around destroying other peoples’ property over and over again. Maybe it’s her parents’ fault? In which case, there’s a bigger family issue at play here, but that’s not the point of this game. We move on.

Once Greta runs away, she travels through various locales, exploring via the ability to create shadow platforms.


Visuals & Sound

The game is beautiful. There’s zero argument there, the shadowbox aesthetic and muted duo-tone color scheme is crisp, detailed, and visually pleasing. There’s no clutter, you see what you’re meant to see, and it looks fantastic. Some of the detail work on the larger character models is particularly stunning—the helmets and garments look like lacework or engraving. It’s fresh, it’s special. It’s worth looking up some screenshots even if you’ re not interested in playing the game.

The sound design, on the other hand, is a mite uninspired. While I’d applaud the game designers for offering a text & dialogue-free gaming experience—so folks from all ages and language backgrounds can equally experience and enjoy it—the rest of the soundscape feels like an afterthought. The musical score is the gaming equivalent of elevator music. It’s… there. It fits, more or less. But it’s not going to add to your experience, if you even notice it. The other sound effects—again, if you notice them—are barely there, with one exception. The light makes a twinkly warble as you move it around, which is endearing at first, but can get increasingly irritating after a while, especially as you try the same sequences over and over… and over… and over…

You can turn down “effects” in the settings to reduce this sound, if you like.



To continue on the thought above, here’s where Projection: First Light disappoints the most. I don’t want to sound harsh—the concept of using light to create shadow platforms and shadows that manipulate objects in the world is brilliant. This is why I was so taken with the game during all the demos. The execution, however, is far from perfect.

Conceptually, it’s simple: manipulate the ball of light against anything that can cast a shadow. Carefully maneuver the shadow to appear where you need it to—at the correct angle, height, and so forth—to create a solid platform that Greta can walk on. Occasionally, you’ll need to position the light underneath her so that a shadow will push her upward to where she needs to go. Other times you’ll need to manipulate physical objects, having Greta place them in the correct spots to create a shadow against them in just the right place. Even more interesting were the puzzles where shadow is used to push and stop boulders, manipulating them away from Greta, or toward a lever, for example.

This, unfortunately, is where things begin to fall apart. The physics of the game are so sensitive that the slightest touch as you try to make a micro-adjustment to your shadow placement can send it zooming across the screen and resetting all your hard work. On more than one occasion, I spent upwards of three to five minutes getting my light to cast a shadow in the perfect position, only to release my thumb from the controller… and the light would snap sideways. It is so fiddly that you may begin to question whether you’ve begun to lose dexterity in your hands.

But you haven’t (we hope), it’s just the game. Another issue comes when the light is near the bottom of the screen. If you’ve created a platform for Greta to jump onto, the camera may shift when she jumps, pushing the light upward and making the platform disappear. Still more fiddly bits: If you move a pixel too far, Greta will fall. If you stand in the wrong place and create a shadow for Greta, she may get stuck inside of it or literally cause her to fall inside of it instead of raising her upward. Another issue with collision detection occurs with the boulders that you need to manipulate—when I’d make my shadow to stop a boulder from rolling down a pathway or push it in the other direction, more often than not it would literally roll right through. In some areas, the boulder would only interact with the shadow maybe 40% of the time. It was, as one might imagine, frustrating.

That said, once you’ve mastered these gameplay elements (or as approximately as that’s possible, all of the above considered), there isn’t much else you need to know. Creating platforms, moving objects, and traversing the landscape is about all you’ll be doing for the duration of the game, so there’s no denying that the play experience falls into repetitiveness once you’re several hours into it. This in itself is fine if you like what you’re doing and can push past the shadow glitches, but it’s fully understandable how someone would find it frustrating and shortly thereafter, dull to play.



I wanted to love Projection: First Light. I’d been hoping (and assuming) this would be a 9 or 10 in its full form, and so I tried to be aware of my potential bias as I began playing. It’s probably why I played it for as long as I did. Admittedly, I didn’t mind the repetitiveness of the gameplay—I enjoy exploration, and I didn’t find creating platforms distasteful, with the exception of the frustrating physics. But I don’t assume that this will be the same for everyone, especially for someone trying this title for the very first time.

It should be mentioned that one good counter to the physics issue is that if Greta does die, the game will restart her in almost the same position she started from, moving her back only ever so slightly. It feels quite forgiving and encourages the sense of exploration. However, you must complete a level before backing out of it if you want to save your progress—so wait until you’ve entered a new area or you’ll be redoing quite a few puzzles. And you might need to back out early in order to try and reset some of the shadow glitches, which isn’t exactly helpful design.

Overall, Projection: First Light is visually stunning, aesthetically charming, and brilliantly unique with its concept. It shines (pun intended) in its textless narrative and art design, and the shadow mechanic enthralls for about as long as it takes to encounter the fifth or sixth moment of fighting against the physics, or the second or third hour of doing nothing much more than creating platform after platform.

As a result, it’s best played in shorter doses rather than long sessions, which can be viewed as either a positive or negative depending on your preferred gaming style.

Do we recommend it? Well, yes… but with some reservations. Are you a patient person? Then this might work for you. Does the idea of constant twitchy micro-adjustments that may not work the second, third, fourth time when puzzle solving cause your blood pressure to rise? Then it’s probably best to skip this one for now.

*Nintendo Fire received a copy of this game in exchange for review.

What do our review scores mean? Check it out here.


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Author: Faith View all posts by
Faith likes games and books and cake and writing and Lara Croft, not necessarily in that order. She also thinks a Skylanders cartoon show is a really, REALLY good idea...

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