Shown publicly at E3 2007, Echochrome garnered buzz with its simple look and unique presentation. Echochrome is a puzzle game, but with a unique twist: each level has players controlling the level's perspective.
Although this gameplay mechanic is hard to describe in words, it's visually understandable in seconds. Basically, imagine an M.C. Escher drawing that players can rotate and pitch, thereby altering the optical illusion to solve the riddle (e.g. making "up" suddenly become "down" to navigate your avatar through each maze).
Players have basic control over the avatar and level perspective, with the ability to change direction, run and think (pause). Recently released on the Japanese PlayStation Network, the Echochrome demo gave those of us in the DailyGame bunker some hands-on time with the unique puzzle game, and we're happy to report that everything you've read about the game is pretty much true.
One of the first impressions with Echochrome is the game's elegant minimalism, with its stark black-and-white background that helps accent the levels, enabling players to chose their next move much more easily. You'll actually thank the game for this minimalism too, as any more detail would increase its difficulty factor immensely. Fortunately, the soft classical string track in the background is nice and calming for those times when the puzzles get difficult even in their black-and-white state.
In a sense, playing Echochrome is a lot like playing Portal, both in its uniqueness and simplicity. Yet even with the tutorial, Echochrome's controls still take a bit of getting used to, with the thumbsticks responsible for the left and right pitch and yaw of the camera, and the face buttons providing avatar control. However, like Portal, the thrill and accomplishment of completing the puzzling levels is undeniable.
This "less is more" concept is a good one, and it in fact spawned a revolution in design and architecture back in the 1920s. This is something more developers should keep in mind; mature gamers still want a polished experience, but developers need not feel locked down to the latest and greatest graphics and gameplay engines just to be on the bandwagon.
Videogames originated from simple concepts, and it's important that programmers not lose track of the things that make games fun in the first place. Fortunately, Echochrome doesn't.
In fact, the simple-but-addicting gameplay is where Echochrome really shines, although to be fair, unless there are hidden speed routes, we're not so sure the game will have much replay value once players have beaten all the levels. Again, in many respects this is like Portal, but Portal was part of the complete The Orange Box "suite." Echochrome will ship in two forms: first as a downloadable PS3 title that includes 50 puzzles, then as a PSP game with 100 levels and some different modes.
Both games will include a level editor, with the ability to share your levels with your friends, but when it comes to puzzles this fun yet complex, we really have to wonder how much "face time" the level editor will actually see with non-developer gamers.
It's hard game to articulate just how Echochrome is "fun," or even to peg the game as anything deeper than a puzzle game. It's sort of like describing why gamers found so much fun in Super Monkey Ball, where players controlled the environment rather than the camera, but even that doesn't quite do it justice. Even "Super Monkey Ball meets Portal" doesn't quite sum it up.
Still, Echochrome is a game I will definitely purchase, if for no other reason than to support the creation of more games like it -- although not necessarily to encourage an Echochrome 2. Echochrome goes on sale in Japan on March 19, but no official announcement has been made regarding a North American or European release.
That being said, the demo we've played through had an English voiceover and Japanese subtitles. Here's hoping it leaves the land of the rising sun sometime soon.
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