Manipulating light in games has, of course, been done before. There are many a puzzle in many a game that require you to angle beams of sunshine just right to unveil a secret, solve a puzzle, or to allow you to move on. One Upon Light is a game that takes these puzzles and turns them on their head; instead of using light to progress, you use shadows to create a path forward.
You play as a scientist who wakes up in the middle of a now-abandoned laboratory, with no clue what has happened, or where everybody's gone. It turns out that, after some sort of experiment gone awry, you now have a total aversion to light, and staying in it for even half a second will result in your demise. Darkness becomes your best friend, and to find out what's going on, you'll have to get through each level by skulking around in the shadows.
It's a neat idea for a puzzle game, and the concept is explored deeply as the game introduces new ways to make your way through the labyrinthine lab. You begin with some very basic levels, with the odd switch here and there to turn things on and off, or areas which require some precise timing to pass through safely. Eventually the game introduces the ability to manoeuvre boxes around in order to create shadows. Then, it gives you machines which allow you to move the boxes from one area to another. The best device for these puzzles, however, is the Shadow Echo glove, which you receive about a third of the way through One Upon Light's short story. This device allows you to slow time, select an object's shadow, and keep it. This means that, once the object is moved away, the shadow remains, allowing you to move through previously impossible areas.
All of these rather simple mechanics combine in later levels to create some truly head-scratching puzzles, and the game is at its best once you have the Shadow Echo device; at that point the levels really up the ante in terms of their complexity. Unfortunately, complex doesn't necessarily mean fun, and while the concept is good, the game misses the mark in a couple of areas.
Pacing is one such issue. The difficulty swings back and forth like a drunk metronome, resulting in some levels overstaying their welcome, and we found that many of the puzzles boil down to a frustrating trial and error process. Dying in One Upon Light is a tedious affair; the checkpointing is good, but death comes so quickly. The game can be very difficult in this regard, with accidental or unwarranted deaths happening thick and fast.
The other major problem is in the presentation. From a top-down perspective, you navigate level after level of monochrome maps that simply don't change things up enough. There's a blandness to the whole game that meant we quickly grew tired of playing, which is a shame. The graphics aren't too bad, and the music sets a gloomy, solemn atmosphere rather well, but this doesn't help the game's lacking fun factor.
We're not quite sure how we feel about One Upon Light. It has a decent premise and the puzzling is clever, but it's sadly let down by some jarring difficulty spikes and poor presentation. Though it may be worth playing for those who enjoy these types of puzzle games, we can't wholeheartedly recommend it. There is a neat little game here, hidden in the shadows, but sadly, it doesn't shine quite brightly enough.