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Female protagonists are a rare sight. Most games lean towards a male lead, allowing women to – at most – occupy the role of a sidekick. Child of Light, however, sees a young girl take centre stage in an intriguing PlayStation 4 production. Elaborately named Aurora, the protagonist is a princess, and although her crown slips down and her sword is oversized, it’s her compassion and honesty that will win your heart as you join her on a perilous dream world quest.

Upon falling asleep one normal day, the star slips from reality and into the stunning dreamscape of Lemuria, a vast world populated with ethereal beings, dark foes, and puzzles aplenty – all of which are realised with staggering watercolour animation. The celestial bodies of our realm – that’s the sun, moon, and stars for those of you that didn’t pay attention during high school – have gone walkabouts thanks to the Black Queen, and it’s down to our likeable heroine to retrieve them.

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This journey is depicted through the exchange of dialogue between the denizens of your new surroundings. What’s special about the game’s discourse, however, is that any conversations are written in rhyme, furthering the fairy tale feel of the experience, while also drenching the exchanges with charm and wit. The ‘coming of age’ premise that drives the story is a fantastical one, as if plucked from the mind of a child, but that summarises the title succinctly – it’s about the power of the imagination.

The landscapes are bold and alive, even through the majority of the game is experienced in the traditional 2D platformer fashion. Foliage and other obstacles respond to Aurora’s presence, while the backdrop will portray the occasional wandering giant or flying dragon in the distance to add depth and life to the whole environment. The lead is constantly observing her surroundings, too; as she patters bare-footed across the map, she’ll look around in wonderment and react accordingly to the scenes before – often making expressions that you’ll mirror while you play.

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Changes in light play a huge role in the title’s atmosphere, as well. As you may have gathered from the name, this is more than just a pretty effect, as it’s where Igniculus comes in. A firefly-like fellow, this accomplice travels alongside you on your quest, and is endlessly helpful. Through the use of the DualShock 4’s versatile touchpad, he’ll provide light in dark areas, stun enemies, and even guide you through many puzzles. He also plays a pivotal part in the game’s turn-based battles.

Child of Light is engaging, intriguing, and downright beautiful – and should be at the top of your wishlist

While probably quite complex on paper, the combat system here is rather ingenious, and has clearly been heavily influenced by the likes of Final Fantasy, Grandia, and other classic role-playing games. A bar at the base of the screen shows all of the participants of a particular punch up sliding towards a red highlighted zone, which signifies that you can attack upon selecting a move. Some enemies move naturally faster, while upgrades or potions can be employed to change your statistics.

And this is where the tactics come in. The timer means that picking the right move at the correct time could be a matter of life and death, with defensive and offensive skills on hand to give you plenty of options. New moves are obtained by spending skill points, which you’ll accrue courtesy of a simple levelling system. Meanwhile, fresh teammates are recruited during the journey, augmenting plenty of variety to the constantly evolving combat system. You can even play in co-op, with a friend commandeering Igniculus while you deal with Aurora’s actions.

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Each new ally comes equipped with a slightly different skill-tree to complete, and a nifty set of unique moves. This all adds another dimension to the tactics of the battle system, as enemies all possess specific strengths and weakness – many of which subscribe to the Top Trumps type mechanics that are so popular in the genre. The battles rise in difficulty depending on your team’s skills, so the playing field is kept pleasingly level from the get-go, and only really spikes at the end of each realm, which plot the introduction of some impressive bosses. Although tough, these colossal antagonists can be dispatched with cunning tactics, and you’ll sense the fuzzy feeling of pride when you cull your first giant.

Alongside the characters’ individual skill-trees, their statistics can also be altered using the collectible and craftable items, Occuli. These are enchanted gems that offer hundreds of combinations to create varying boosters for your team’s weapons, armour, and stats. Combining three of the same Occuli produces a better version– a lot like the gems in the Diablo games – and leads to improved upgrades and valuable perks that will give you the edge in combat.

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Of course, when you’re not tweaking your party or winning battles, you’ll be observing the gorgeous artwork, which is powered by the UbiArt Framework engine that Rayman Legends employs. While graphics don’t make a game – the original Killzone, anyone? – they certainly help, and this title looks exceptional. Everything from the leaves on the trees to the princess’ red locks all possess an ethereal vibe, as if the whole world is underwater – you’ll feel like you’re the puppeteer of a dream. This is all achieved thanks to plenty of artistic creativity, and it culminates in one of the best looking titles of the year so far.

And you get all of that for just £11.99/$14.99 on the PS3 and PS4 – complete with cross-buy. Child of Light is set to not only reinvigorate turn-based combat, but also prove that developers can still be successful when moving away from the titles that they’re renowned for. You may not know it, but this release has been fronted by several of the key players from the Far Cry 3 team, and yet there’s nary a palm tree or psychopath to be seen. Instead, it’s engaging, intriguing, and downright beautiful – and it should be right at the top of your gaming wishlist.

Are you looking forward to basking in the glow of Child of Light? Would you like to see more of these creative experiments from big publishers like Ubisoft? Shine like a star in the comments section below.