There’s no realitaaaay.
Echochrome, or to give it’s proper name ‘echochrome’ (but I’m a sucker for capitalising names), is the latest effort by Sony’s in-house Japan dev team and is, at least on the surface, the sort of thing that Sony that used to make them so damned loveable before this whole sordid PS3 mess happened.
Of course the PSP (this game is also available on the PS3 but you don’t own one of them do you?) isn’t a complete stranger to new gaming ideas what with the likes of LocoRoco and Patapon charming PSP owners across the world and slowly but surely the PSP seems to be getting its shit together just as people are realising just how cynically poor most games for the DS are.
So what have they come up with this time? Well, as far as concepts go this is pretty ‘out there’ even by Japanese standards so I’ll start with the basics and throw in some perfunctory comparisons. Reviewing these weird PSP games can really mess with a reviewer’s head.
First things first. You start with a man standing on a platform that is suspended in mid-air and your objective is to guide him to the end via a series of checkpoints. You don’t get to control the man as such though, just the platform that he is on. Think Super Monkey Ball and then forget I wrote that.
In between your man and these objectives are dead ends, gaps, holes and jump pads, all of which will scupper your attempts to get anywhere. Think Pitfall II and then call me an idiot and forget I wrote that.
Now mix in some stark monochromatic imagery based on the perspective illusions of M C Escher. You know, those drawings of infinite waterfalls and stairs that go to the floor they started on. Think 3D Ant Attack meets Marble Madness and then knock on my door, defecate on my welcome mat, call me an idiot and forget I wrote that.
So, how do those elements make a game? Well, once you set your little man off at the beginning of a level, he will move in one direction until blocked. At which point he’ll turn back. Your only control over this mindless drone is the ability to stop him for a while whilst you figure out how to get him past these objectives.
To get to your objectives you have to apply the five laws of Echochrome. ‘Perspective Travelling’ is where if two separate platforms appear to join on a 2D plane, then you can walk across even if in 3D they clearly are seperate. ‘Perspective Landing’, allows you land on a platform if you align it underneath a hole (again in 2D). ‘Perspective Existence’ is a nice one.
If there is a gap, rotating the camera so that a pillar obscures your view of it will mean that the gap longer exists. ‘Perspective Absence’ is the same as the previous law but applies to obstacles. Hide them to remove them. ‘Perspective Jump’ is the same as ‘Perspective Fall’ but for jump pads. If you can put a platform above you then you’ll hit it, even if it’s on another plane of existence.
So really it all just comes down to aligning the three-dimensional structures that make up the levels so that various points appear to touch or are above or below you on a two-dimensional plane. That’s that make sense? I remain unconvinced!
Whilst you can’t fault Echochrome for its invention and all-round cleverness, it does rather shoot itself in the foot at times. Especially with the law of ‘Perspective Travelling’ which should come with a sub-clause that states ‘only if we decide to allow it’. You’ll find yourself perfectly aligning platforms but, for whatever reason, the game just will not let you pass.
Why is it that every game ever that has claimed to be â€œartâ€ either A: plays like a load of dogshit, B: gets repetitive within the first hour, or C: tries to hide its total lack of depth with flashy visuals and slick presentation?
Well Echochrome true to form suffers from all three problems just like those â€œgames as artâ€ pretenders that came before it like Shadow of the Colossus (burn the heretic! – Ed) or Hotel Dusk. Anyway, the central idea is sound with you twisting and manipulating environments that all look like M. C. Escher paintings to get your little avatar around them but in doing so you discover the biggest problem the game has.
At the start of every new map you can take as long as you want to preview it and watch the avatars move around and doing so you can identify different objects, be it jumps, pits, gaps etc. that you’ll use to complete it.
Where you should be able to ‘read’ the map and think â€œok, jump there then fall there, twist to thereâ€¦â€ trial and error quickly replaces this with you eliminating possible moves before you chance upon the right one to progress. When random chance and sheer dumb luck replace skill and strategy you’re not playing â€œartâ€ you’re playing â€œgashâ€
Secondary Score: 6/10
However, the game’s main faults are even more serious. For the most part, mindless trial and error seems to be the easiest way to navigate the levels. They are, after all, optical illusions so don’t expect elegant solutions to come easily. Instead expect to be spinning the camera all over the place in an attempt to make sense of the later levels. A task made even less enjoyable by the stodgy controls.
In an effort to help you overcome this, pressing the square button helps to snap the camera into key points but even that seems quite random at times, steadfastly refusing to make snap to clear joining possibilities.
The other main fault is that Echochrome, even by puzzler standards, gets very boring, very quickly. The initial idea is so intriguing but even after the tutorial you get a sense that it won’t sustain itself into a full game. The laws themselves only really extend to three concepts (hiding, joining and aligning) and the levels, whilst undoubtedly being well-designed, rarely offer anything new.
The minimalist presentation and violin score are certainly welcome and the game offers over two hundred levels as well as the ‘canvas’ mode which allows you to build your own levels. An option that will prove useless to most people as building a challenging and entertain level is probably the hardest task in this game.
With its clumsy, unfriendly controls and almost tech-demo gameplay, Echochrome isn’t likely to entertain hardcore or casual players and UK gamers can expect a whopping price rise as this game is only getting a UMD release here which will see the original $9.99 price tag jump up to £20 and whilst this game could do with sitting on a memory stick for occasional casual play, sliding in the UMD isn’t something I can see myself doing any time soon.