Pete Witcher is a Feature and Community Writer for Blowfish Studios.
Projection: First Light is a visually striking and thoughtful puzzle-solving journey into an alternate universe of shadow puppets and light-based magic, available exclusively on Apple Arcade. It’s a story-driven 2D platformer with a melancholy atmosphere and moments of heartwarming enlightenment. You play as Greta, a young girl on a hero’s journey across the globe. But unlike most platform games, there’s not a steady stream of enemies to deal with. Instead there are puzzles to solve with magic light and shadows you create. And there are characters to meet and interact with, characters from the mythologies and traditions of several real-world cultures.
The first level introduces you to Greta and her world of animated shadow puppets … and no dialog. Throughout the game, characters use the universal language of pantomime and puppetry to express themselves and tell the story. It works so well you can fully enjoy the theater of it and easily suspend disbelief as soon as you start playing. Greta’s home is a somewhat bleak sepia-toned cityscape that reminds me of depression-era New York City or 19th-century London. Soot and ashes float in the air all around. Greta is mischievous, and through a very unlucky series of events, she gets into some fairly serious trouble with a fruit vendor, the police, a construction worker, and finally her parents. Ultimately Greta is sent to her room, alone.
But then Greta discovers a magical light hovering like a butterfly. She escapes her room through a secret passage, and chases the butterfly. You control Greta as she pursues her mysterious quarry, and Projection: First Light shows you how to interact with the environment using a very subtle tutorial that blends seamlessly with the first several minutes of gameplay. Helper graphics appear on screen to show you what button to press to pick up an object or interact with a character. And the helper graphics update automatically if you connect a game controller.
You get a feel for the game’s physics very quickly (I like how there’s no fall damage … unless you fall into water), and soon, in an exciting action sequence, you and Greta pass follow the light into a fantasy world. You find yourself following Greta into an abandoned shadow puppet theater within the shadow puppet game; it’s delightfully mind-bending. Here’s where the magic really begins and you learn how to use shadows to climb obstacles, manipulate objects, and progress through the level. After learning how shadows work, you unlock the ability to control the light, who is now your partner. With very little practice you’ll be able to simultaneously control Greta and the light to create paths through each map on Greta’s journey. You can create shadows to form ramps and platforms for Greta to ascend, but you can also get stuck under a shadow, escaping only after you reposition your light source. And some shadows are softer than others, preventing Greta from jumping off of them. The interaction between light and objects is a joy to play with and discover, and it’s unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game before.
The gameplay is soothing and thought-provoking, and the puzzles are well-designed and challenging enough to be satisfying but not frustrating. I chose to use an Apple bluetooth game controller and display the game on my smart TV with Apple Airplay because I want to see everything the game displays. The art design in Projection: First Light is in a class by itself, intricately beautiful and constantly offering new backgrounds and characters to appreciate. The art incorporates elements from the obscure but haunting world of shadow puppet theater as well as traditional art styles and designs from China, England, Indonesia, and Turkey.
As Greta progresses from level to level and country to country, she encounters mythological characters going about their mythological lives and learns valuable lessons from them. For example in Indonesia, early in the game, Greta encounters a woman who is blocking Greta’s path. Turning back, Greta meets another local , who teaches her the proper way to greet people in this culture. Returning to the woman blocking the path, Greta greets her properly, and she happily moves aside. And this is all done without any dialog, only puppetry and theatrical body language. It’s a surprisingly touching experience in such an unassuming game. As Greta’s journey continues she travels ever farther, interacting with more people, heroes, and fantastic creatures while witnessing epic mythology as it plays out around her.
Projection: First Light draws you in quickly and leaves a lasting impression. It’s uniqueness and mysterious beauty make it very replayable. To add an extra challenge factor, the game has several butterflies scattered throughout the levels. They’re placed in hard-to-reach spots that require a little extra effort, keeping the gameplay fresh during subsequent playthroughs.
Overall, Projection: First Light stands out among 2D platform games. The paper-and-wood feel, dramatic puppetry, and innovative light-and-shadow physics make it an epic puzzle-solving experience in a deceivingly small package. At first glance it looks like a fun little game, but in the right light you can see it’s a titan among platformers.
Projection: First Light is available now on Apple Arcade for iPhone, iPad, AppleTV and Mac!