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Review: One Upon Light – indie puzzle game from Singapore

One Upon Light logo Credit: SUTD Game Lab
One Upon Light logo
Credit: SUTD Game Lab

At GameStart 2014, Singapore’s premiere gaming convention this morning, I had the chance to try out One Upon Light, the first locally developed game title exclusively for the PlayStation 4 platform.

It’s an ostensibly simple puzzle game, with it’s monochromatic cell-shaded 3D world and very straightforward gameplay mechanics, but as soon as it draws you in, it launches you into one fiendishly clever, addictively challenging and highly frustrating level after another.

Find out more about the game, and how you can get it, under the cut.

You, known only as The Scientist, begin the game with little recollection about the circumstances leading to your predicament. Very quickly, however, you realise you are now photophobic – that is, if you’re exposed to light for too long, you die. Using both static and movable objects, you devise ways to keep yourself in the shadows as you navigate a dilapidated laboratory building, slowly uncovering the truth about your past!

 

In the relatively short time I had with the game, I was able to play up to five levels, the last of which introduced the Shadow Echo, the protagonist’s sole unique ability. This addition to the game’s mechanics allows you to “capture” any shadow that is cast by an object, granting you safe passage even after the object has been moved. As you can imagine, this opens up a whole new dimension of puzzles, drastically ramping up their complexity.

One Upon Light Screenshot Credit: SUTD Game Lab
One Upon Light Screenshot
Credit: SUTD Game Lab

The gameplay itself works so simply there is rarely a need for user interface hints. The few that exist are subtly revealed during the game. According to lead programmer Chuah Chong Yunn, the game works on a grid-like system that movable objects can snap to rather than allowing them to move freely. This allows players to focus on the actual puzzle solving, rather than wasting time guessing if an object is in exactly the right spot. The game’s design therefore has more in common with the classic puzzle game Sokoban, where the solution is cleanly obtained, rather than a fluid world like Portal which has room for some randomness.

One Upon Light Screenshot
One Upon Light Screenshot

Each of the game’s twenty levels is “divided” into several sections, and the game utilises “save points” at the start of each of these “mini-levels”. This means you never have to go back to the start should you die near the end. Considering how frustrating I can imagine the later challenges will be, this is definitely a good way to increase the player’s willingness to continue with the game.

All that being said, however, this is definitely not a “casual game”. In line with the PlayStation’s reputation of catering to the “hardcore gamer” crowd, One Upon Light promises to appeal to the most dedicated of puzzle solvers. As the game progresses, you not only have to find the solution to the puzzle, your manual dexterity and reaction time are also put to the test!

One Upon Light Development Team Credit: SUTD Game Lab
One Upon Light Development Team
Credit: SUTD Game Lab

The brains behind this indie puzzle game are the SUTD Game Lab, the game development team under the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and they’ve been hard at work on the game for the past two years, even as they pull double duty training young minds through their Game Innovation Programme.

Though One Upon Light is the first commercial title from SUTD Game Lab, they were formerly the Singapore branch of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, which created games like CarneyVale: Showtime, Snap Escape and Dark Dot, among others.

One Upon Light will be released exclusively on the PlayStation Store Asia for PS4 on October 23rd. It is priced at S$8.10 or US$6.50. The game is one of the first to be translated into Thai and Bahasa Indonesia, and subtitles will also be available in Chinese and Korean. For the moment, it will not be available outside of Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and South East Asia, though with sufficient demand, it might very well become an international success by next year.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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