Review by grysl

"Looks Like a Great Game... From the Right Angle"

Echochrome is a great idea...what if the optical illusions caused by rendering a 3-D environment in 2-D space actually changed the way that environment behaved? M C Escher exploited the same ideas in his paintings of never-ending stairwells, and can hence be seen in every college dorm room across the nation, right next to that Belushi poster.

But does it translate well into a game?

Echochrome presents you with a little wire-frame mannequin, walking Lemming-like through his geometric wire-frame world. You merely control the camera, trying to tilt the playfield into whatever angle creates the illusions that let the mannequin get around. If you can't see a gap in the road from this perspective, then it doesn't exist. If the walkway in the foreground seems to connect to the one all the way in the background, the mannequin will just stroll on over. The goal is to collect all of your "shadows" from the level as quickly as possible.

It's obscenely clever. But the truth is, it doesn't work very well.

The game is extremely finicky about whether or not it considers a path connected or not, which means lots of trial-and-error in getting things to line up. It tries to signal a connection by eliminating the line that used to separate the paths, but sometimes the mannequin still won't proceed along the connected route. Jump pads are also a particular problem, catapulting the mannequin at odd and unpredictable angles that make actual puzzle-solving a matter of luck more than planning.

I'm sure the technical challenge of programming a game like this are immense, and I'm almost willing to overlook the small glitches in favor of the bigger picture. But there's one easily fixed problem that causes the most trouble....

Why can't you directly control the mannequin? He just walks obliviously walks along his path. You can stop him while you work the camera into position, but you can't make him change direction. Unfortunately, there's also no way to predict his next direction... if he falls through a hole onto the platform "below," you can't predict which way he'll walk next. If he lands directly next to one of the shadows he's supposed to be collecting, he may about-face and walk the wrong way. Sometimes this means a fifteen-second delay. Other times, it means solving the puzzle from scratch and wasting two or three minutes getting there again. It's infuriating.

All of this could have been solved with a simple toggle switch that gives you control of the mannequin when not manipulating the camera. Since the game allows you to freeze the mannequin while thinking, it's clearly not going for a Lemming-style of rush play. So why not just hand over the joystick?

I want to love this game. I want to gush about how the clever illusion-based gameplay has been nicely complemented by consistent controls and rewarding puzzles. But this is one game where the idea is far better than the execution.

If a glimpse at a cool idea is worth $9.99 to you, then more power to you. But be warned, the game's problems are not minor. And unlike in the world of Echochrome, just because you don't want to see them doesn't mean they aren't there.

Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 08/14/08

Game Release: echochrome (US, 05/01/08)

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