echochrome

“Nice video / Shame about the song.” That’s probably the only thing I can remember from Not the Nine O’Clock News, which isn’t bad considering it was first broadcast when I was between the ages of -2 and 0 years old. It rather sums up echochrome though, which looked simply divine when it was shown in video form last year. A black and white puzzle game where changing perspective changes reality – it looked interesting, new, mature.

But I should have seen it coming. The black and white, the all lowercase title – it’s massively poncy, and that’s not often a good sign. What should have been a minimalist, mind-bending, but perversely intuitive puzzler, is actually just a fiddly little bugger.

The basic concepts are wonderful: if there’s a gap between platforms, but you can make them look connected by changing the perspective, then there is no gap. Holes that you can fall through onto what appears below are fine too – and again, if you can obscure them, then they aren’t there. But when you add pads that make you jump up, it starts to feel a bit forced; like the original idea wasn’t quite enough, so it’s been bulked out.

The execution is frustrating. Control isn’t quite sharp enough, and it’s not as responsive as I’d like. The puzzles don’t feel open; I was never under the impression that I could discover an alternative, unintended solution. The challenge isn’t one of understanding perspective, it’s one of working out what the developers want you to do. That’s less than satisfying, especially when at times it involves nothing more than trial and error.

The structure of the game’s a bit of a mess too. There are three separate tasks for each puzzle, and two modes to serve you puzzles. One mode shoves randomly choosen puzzles and tasks at you until you get bored; the other lets you select the individual puzzle and task, or play through a group of puzzles – with the task for each puzzle chosen randomly. There’s no sense of being guided through puzzles in a considered way; rather it’s like you’ve been given a big bag of puzzles, and told to do what the hell you want with them. I’m all for not locking content from the player, but this is just unhelpful.

It’s by no means all bad – it’s still utterly ingenius at times – but what should have been a simple idea beautifully executed, has been mangled by trying to presumably make it more challenging. A disappointment.