Echochrome is a stark, stripped back mind melting puzzler that plays with perspective in ways only previously experienced with the help of strange little pills or Peter Jackson and his special effects team at WETA.
The basic premise of the game is to lead a simply drawn mannequin around a series of beams, blocks and stairs whilst negotiating gaps and traps to reach a predetermined series of shadowy echoes. However, the twist is that you don’t do this with simple addition or subtraction and there is no burning down barriers or building bridges to complete the levels. In Echochrome’s world your only tools are your analogue sticks and your only ally is perspective.
As you enter the game you are presented with four choices. Freeform will randomly select a puzzle, while Atelier allows you to select levels to replay, save or check your best times. Canvas is where you can build your own levels to share online and Etc. gives you access to tutorials and a small number of gameplay options.
Select Freeform and you are dropped into your first surreal and ethereal challenge. Each level is a mixture of an M.C. Escher painting and one of the high-rise, half finished skyscrapers (all iron girders and terrifying falls), that black and white Disney characters, or Harold Lloyd, used to innocently wander around in the 1920’s. The subdued classical score wonderfully adds to the atmosphere as you are allowed the time to formulate your plan of attack.
There are only four objects to consider when planning your solution. Your character is one and the shadow outline that represents your goal is the second. The third and fourth objects are black and white circles. The black circles are holes, while the white circles will bounce you into the air. And it really is as simple as that. So simple in fact that it will soon have you chewing your own arm off, snapping your controller in half and throwing your half paid flat screen television through the window and out onto to street to be picked up by the garbage men on Monday morning.
The rules that apply to Echochrome’s world take only a few moments to be explained in the tutorial, but like all great puzzles, their application and implications are complex and intriguing. One simple rule is if you can’t see it, it’s not there. This means that if there is a gap or obstruction in the path to your goal you simply have to move your camera angle so that the gap can’t be seen. If you can’t see it, it’s not there, so your mannequin will disappear out of view and reappear on the other side as if there were no gap.
This works the same with the black circles. If you have to cross one of these holes the simple way is to tilt the camera below the level of the path so you can’t see the trap. However, if you don’t tilt far enough or quickly enough, then you character will fall through and you will need to restart the level. The same of course applies to the white circles. To avoid being thrown through the air, simply move to a position where you can’t see the trap – problem solved.
But falling through holes, or flying through the air is not always a bad thing. Every level has echo goals on isolated and relatively distant positions. Here the trick is to move the camera so that your objective is below your position. The goal doesn’t need to actually be below where you are, it could be in the distance or the foreground. However, it just needs to be positioned, in the two-dimensional space that is your television screen, below the hole. Fall through the hole and your mannequin will land safely and will be able to continue its steady trek.
If it sounds weird – it is. But this doesn’t just work with falling and jumping. Two beams, no matter how distant, with the correct camera movements’ can appear to meet. In Echochrome, if they appear to meet - they do. Get it just right and the two beams will meld into one, opening a new path to your character.
So, the whole experience is both simple and bizarre. However, there is a downside, the simple issue of control. As you can imagine it takes delicate and precise movements to line up objects at different distances, exactly right. Just ask Peter Jackson about the whole hobbit/wizard thing that they’re probably working on again now.
With Echochrome, if your controller is in the least bit twitchy from all those hours playing Skate or The Simpsons then don’t even bother starting; or at least be prepared to fork out for a new controller. The slightest hint of twitchiness whether it be it physical or mechanical, will induce the console version of brain freeze and the whole experience will inevitably end in tears.
That being said, once you have mastered the many challenges then it is time to create and share you wealth of experience in the form of your own created levels. Canvas mode gives you access to all the tools the developer had to build their content. As with many games building and sharing is an essential element to increasing the longevity of the game.
Puzzle games are an acquired taste and Echochrome is no different. If you hated those moments in Max Paine or God of War when the killing stopped and the balancing, jumping and careful planning started, then this game might not be for you. But, if you want a minimalist, surreal mind-bender to challenge your sense of reality then welcome to the world of Echochrome.