It took longer and was more brutal than a rap battle between J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, but Child of Light has finally made it to the PlayStation Vita. Those of you who have been desperately waiting to see what all the fuss was about can, after almost three months, join Aurora on her rather poetic quest to save the world from a dark witch hell bent on revenge. The content itself is still as fantastic as it ever was, but double-dippers beware: this handheld port isn’t without a few problems of its own.
The title still remains an excellent role-playing game. It’s true that it’s not exactly got the longevity of a Square Enix epic, but it’s deep enough that you won’t feel too underwhelmed in the eight or nine hours that it’ll take you to fight your way to the end credits and collect everything on offer. The atmosphere is perfect – a fairytale wasteland interspersed by small villages and towns, with a beautiful visual style that's reminiscent of an old Brothers Grimm storybook.
To help with the delivery, every piece of dialogue is written in rhyming couplets, a trait which adds a singsong quality to the words, but also offers a nice contrast to the problems that many of the characters face. You're never going to get too invested in your party, and you’re not going to see them grow over a 40 hour arc, but they are given enough airtime that you’ll grow to like them, and that you’ll appreciate their causes. That’s something that even longer RPGs don’t always get right.
While turn-based, the battle system adds a nice twist that helps to make the game stand out. By taking advantage of a little blue firefly called Igniculus, you can slow down an enemy’s move, meaning that you can tactically squeeze in a few extra shots to minimise your own damage. Couple this with the ability to 'knock back' an opponent on the time bar, and you have a mechanic that's incredibly simple, but which adds a brilliant ounce of strategy to the mix.
The more that you fight, the higher that you level up, and, consequentially, you'll unlock access to new abilities. Every character has their own advantages and disadvantages, and levelling effectively to your own playstyle can make things very easy. There’s an extra difficulty setting if you fancy something a tad harder, but, even then, grinding is all but unnecessary.
Despite all of these RPG sounding systems, the release is as much an exploration platformer as it is an RPG. Built in the same engine as the last two Rayman games, as well as the poignant World War I feels-‘em-up Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Aurora’s adventure is packed with simple navigation segments, in which you’ll avoid giant thorns and spiked traps while trying to solve switch puzzles. Exploring all of the nooks and crannies will net you decent items and optional enemies, but it’ll also mean that you get to spend more time in the magnificently designed world.
Unfortunately, the Vita outing is just that little less magnificent than the PlayStation 4 version. The first thing that’ll stand out for people who’ve played the game before will be the slower framerate. The cost of fitting the experience onto Sony’s handheld is that it can’t go above 30 frames-per-second, and, to the naked eye, it seems that it drops below that quite frequently as well. Graphics aren’t everything, of course, and framerate isn't exactly a deal breaker in this genre, but it definitely results in the animations looking a little less sharp.
That’s true for most of the graphical elements here: it just doesn’t pop as much as it did on Sony's next-gen machine – and that's when tested on an OLED screen. It’s not dreadful, and had it released at the same time as the other versions, it probably wouldn’t have stood out so much – but getting the worst version so long after general release is a kick in the teeth regardless of the reasoning behind the delay.
Fortunately, there are some minor improvements, as you can now use the touch screen to drag Igniculus across the screen by his little blue face – a punishment for being so awfully chipper all of the time. This works, naturally, because it provides a degree of accuracy unavailable with the analogue stick. As a result, those light puzzles, which before required you to very carefully line up beams of colour on a wall, can now be completed in a far less frustrating way. The biggest problem with this input method is that those of us with fat thumbs will find that the blue bug rarely stays where you want him to, instead dancing around the edge of the screen whenever you inadvertently lean on the sticks too hard.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that this is a straight-up port – there’s no additional content or any new story. Aside from the advantages that you may glean from playing on the move, there’s no real reason to dish out your hard-earned money to play this version again, and even then, it’s not cross-save, so you won’t be able to continue your console progress on the go. The decision for it not to be cross-buy may annoy some players, who would have liked to have played on the Vita without shelling out again, but it’s obvious why the publisher skipped support in this area. Not adding cross-save in a linear RPG, on the other hand, is something that seems almost lazy, and it’ll be a key negative for those that don’t want to start again from scratch.
The best console version of Child of Light is still only available on the PS4, but the Vita version is more than passable. The story, the characters, and the design can’t be knocked, but the presentation and the decision not to support cross-save means that there’s little reason to give Ubisoft your money again. Still, if you can only play while out and about, then this remains a title that you should definitely give a go.