Being a retro child of the 80â€™s, I have often thought that video games are just getting way too complicated these days. After a long hard dayâ€™s work, the last thing I want to worry about is trying to memorise a mass of different button combinations or having to deal with my virtual mate who wants to go bowling on the other end of town. EchoChrome, with its minimalist style and simple controls looked to be that game that I could finally unwind with.
I couldnâ€™t have been any more wrong. EchoChrome is quite possibly the worst choice of game to try and chill out with. But apart from being about as relaxing as a poke to your eyeball, this game does provide some fantastic and innovative puzzle solving gameplay. For those who have the patience for it that is.
EchoChrome is probably unlike any other game you have ever seen or played. The puzzles and logic will appeal to fans of the Half-Life 2 mini-game Portal, except none of the eye-candy is present here. Instead all of the visuals are completely black and white, consisting of 3d beams and platforms with a mannequin figure as your player. The art direction is a watered down version of M. C. Escherâ€™s famous illustrations of never-ending staircases and warped rooms. The object of EchoChrome is as simple as the visuals â€“ just get your stick figure from point A to point B.
Perspective is everything in this game. Each map or level is completely self-contained and floats suspended in the middle of your screen. At the start of each level, your character starts walking in a set linear direction that is entirely dictated by the narrow beams he walks on. By moving the analogue stick or directional buttons you can view the map from every angle. This is basically the only control you get and every puzzle within is solved by simply changing your view-point.
For example, there may be a gap in the beam ahead of your character that prevents you from getting to your destination. By angling the camera so that another platform obscures this gap, it ceases to exist and your player will calmly walk across. It requires you to ignore your rational thought and start thinking laterally, twisting the laws of physics and perspective until youâ€™re not even sure what is up or down anymore.
Later levels introduce two other obstacles that can either aid or prevent you from accomplishing your goals. These appear in the form of black or white spots on the platforms. The black dots are holes causing your player to drop down onto whatever level appears to be below you. By altering the perspective, even as the player is falling you can control where your player lands, sometimes even landing on the same level as you started on! The white spots are jump pads that launch your player into the air. Again, by moving the camera you can direct your flying figure to land on the right beam and continue walking. Sometimes the character will actually fall upwards if you can make a higher up level object appear below it. If your player falls off the screen or fails to land on a platform, then your character simply re-appears on the platform with no penalties. Instead of lives, EchoChrome puts your brain against the clock, requiring you to achieve your best times for completing each level.
This simplistic approach to the game is extended across a huge number of levels, each one requiring a different strategy but using the same laws and rules as the next. Progressing through chronologically, the levels get increasingly difficult and more complicated. Sometimes they require you to reach several different check-points within the level, each one indicated by a shadow version of yourself that you must walk through. These are known as â€śechoesâ€ť as the title of the game suggests. Other levels offer two constantly walking characters that you must guide simultaneously in order to complete the level.
The concepts and brain-taxing puzzles in EchoChrome are brilliant. Unfortunately though, these puzzles are made all that much more frustrating purely because of the controls. Despite you only having to control the camera angles, the game requires you to do so in such a precise and speedy fashion that you can quite often end up sending your man in the wrong direction. Getting two beams to perfectly line up in a matter of seconds will definitely take practice and most gamers will opt to use the directional pad buttons to get accurate control. Luckily the game does give you some additional buttons to help you get through the levels. The most important two are the Traingle button that pause your man and gives you time to think about your next move. The second is the Square button that will snap beams together if you have lined the objects up closely enough. However this doesnâ€™t help much when using the jump or drop pads and quick reflexes will be needed. Holding the trigger on the PSP while moving the camera speeds up the panning or rotating and lastly you can also hold down the X button to speed up the gameplay. This is usually only required when your character starts walking back in the wrong direction to save wasted time.
EchoChrome includes 56 pre-built levels on both the PSP and PS3. In Atelier mode, these are broken down into eight categories lettered A through G with increasingly tougher difficulty levels. The game also features a Freeform mode where you have a time limit to complete each stage at your choice of difficulty. Unfortunately though, this time limit doesnâ€™t appear to be displayed on screen and quite often the level will abruptly end indicating you have run out of time. For those who do manage to complete all 56 challenging levels, EchoChrome offers both the option to create your own puzzles or to download additional ones. The level editor works well, but creating your ultimate puzzle will take some patience as the interface is slightly clunky.
This game will certainly appeal to true puzzle fans. It is a refreshing change of pace for others and EchoChrome fits perfectly on the PSP platform. However, it is definitely not recommended for late night playing as these addictive and brain-taxing puzzles will keep you up for hours. Soon youâ€™ll be seeing everything in black and white.