Title: Projection: First Light
Developer: Shadowplay Studios, Sweaty Chair Studios
Publisher: Blowfish Studios
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: blowfishstudios.com
Release Date: September 29th, 2020
Projection: First Light joins a long list of indie puzzle platformers for players to choose from. What sets it apart from the others is its unique art style. The game attempts to honor the art form of shadow puppetry through engaging puzzles and platforming sections. For the most part, it does a stellar job of it. Where it falters, however, is in its gameplay mechanics. Its design and score are simply stunning, pulling the player into the world. But when it comes to actually playing, it leaves a little to be desired.
An Unexpected Adventure
Projection: First Light follows Greta, a precocious little girl who stumbles upon an adventure. One day she finds a shining butterfly, she chases it through her town leaving a trail of destruction behind her. The butterfly eventually leads her to an abandoned shadow puppet theater. This theater teleports her to various exotic locations, chronicling the rise of the art form’s popularity across history. Greta explores Indonesia, China, Turkey, and Victorian England.
The plot is arguably the least important aspect of the game as Projection’s art style and mechanics work in tandem to create the experience. While it isn’t as important, it still could have used a little extra work. Cutscenes showing Greta interact with each location’s citizens are almost completely silent. Characters move along with the music, but some dialogue, narration, or even minor grunts to express emotion could have worked wonders. Some scenes are less interesting because of it while others are just hard to follow. Thankfully, as it isn’t a central focus, this doesn’t hinder the experience of Projection too much.
The Mechanics of Projection
Greta can’t do much beyond walking, moving small objects, and jumping short distances. Luckily, she’s got you to manipulate each environment so she can make it through. While the left joystick controls Greta, the right controls a small ball of light. Positioning this light strategically next to a platform or one of the small, movable objects will cast a physical shadow that Greta can walk on.
As Projection progresses, it becomes more difficult than simply extending the length of a platform you can’t reach. You’ll use shadows to push boulders onto door-opening switches or knock boxes off a ledge so you can use them to your advantage. The game also introduces lanterns you can light briefly so that you can position your ball of light elsewhere.
This gameplay hook resulted in many clever puzzles, though it didn’t always work the way it should. Objects and Greta herself can get stuck in the shadows you create. Even if you cast a shadow over Greta’s foot, she won’t be able to move. Of course, a slight twitch on the right joystick will free her. But it happened frequently enough to be frustrating, especially when high up, over a trap, or when time was of the essence.
This mechanic is also better suited to patient players. One slightly wrong move with your light source could eliminate a shadow and make Greta fall, so taking the time to line the shadows up just right is key. Because of this, I found the puzzles where I had to move other objects rather than Greta more enjoyable. But with the right touch and execution, the puzzles of Projection could be quite engaging.
The Worlds of Projection
Right from the beginning, the charm of Projection never lets up. Its shadow puppetry aesthetic makes it look unlike any other game out there. Characters and some objects appear to be held up on sticks, presenting the game like it’s an actual puppet show. Buildings and other bits of the background environment will even pop up as Greta moves through different areas. This makes it feel like someone really is behind a curtain, working alongside the player’s progression. Though these may be small touches, they go a long way in elevating the game’s presentation.
Although the mechanics stay relatively the same throughout, each country still feels different. The environment and character design changes to match where Greta is. The detail that was put into each of them is also noticeable. The development team consulted shadow puppeteer and historian Richard Bradshaw to ensure Projection was accurate and respectful, and it absolutely shows. Additionally, each country is accompanied by period-authentic instruments.
The Butterfly Effect
Projection: First Light is mostly a straightforward game. But much like the strawberries in Celeste, players can collect hidden or hard-to-reach butterflies for an extra challenge. This lends itself well to a convenient feature in the game: Chapter Select.
If you miss any butterflies or just want to replay a section, the main menu’s Chapter Select is a nice feature to have. Not only does it show you how many butterflies you’re missing, but each country is conveniently divided into small sections so you don’t have to replay larger chunks just looking for one of those pesky bugs. It’s a small inclusion, but it’s something completionists will certainly appreciate.
Verdict: Projection: First Light pays homage to the somewhat lost art form of shadow puppetry with an incredible art style and period-centric instruments for each country that popularized it. While many of its puzzles will make you feel clever, Greta’s platforming mechanics can be frustrating. Regardless, it’s still a unique puzzle-platformer that fans of the genre will enjoy.
Projection: First Light follows the adventures of Greta, a girl living in a mythological shadow puppet world, as she embarks on a journey of self-enlightenment with the assistance of legendary heroes from each culture she explores. Accompanied by atmospheric visuals and an ethereal soundtrack made with antique instruments used for shadow puppet performances, Projection: First Light takes players on an inclusive voyage through the history of shadow puppets as it evolves through Indonesia, China, Turkey, and 19th century England (via official site).
- Unique art style
- Great soundtrack
- Clever puzzles
- Chapter select for completionists
- Greta's platforming mechanics
- No narration or dialogue for cutscenes