Review by Kwing

"The most original game of all time, and a true artistic masterpiece."

Introduction

Echochrome is a unique game in which you must alter the camera in order to guide the player to the end. By altering the camera, you can connect two distant platforms simply by virtue of making them LOOK connected from your perspective. Similarly, you can make the player fall from a platform and land on a platform standing at equal height, simply because the camera's perspective makes the platforms appear at a different height. Lastly, you can obstruct the camera's view of obstacles to allow the player to walk right past them.

If you want to experience how this game works, you could look at online videos of it, but I recommend you go download the Echochrome demo right now and see what you think of it. You'll go through a tutorial and two or three levels from Course A of the full game, to help you get the feel of the game before buying the full version. Looks good, sounds good, but the demo will leave you with a couple questions. Is this color scheme going to fry my eyes out if I play it at night? Is this game going to be fun, or am I going to get stuck and frustrated? Is this game going to get horribly repetitive? I mean, it's terribly simple. There aren't even any keys or locked doors or enemies or powerups.

Well the answer is that this game does not fall victim to the pitfalls you may suspect exist from playing the demo. This game is beautiful in every aspect, exceedingly fun to play, and has staggering replay value given its tiny size (~40 MB).

Gameplay

The fun thing about Echochrome is that you're allowed to do things in any order you want. You start off at one point, then have to collect all of your echoes (little human-shaped shadows) before returning to the starting point. This gives you the freedom to choose where you want to go, but also challenges you to find the most direct routes to have the best completion times.

Echochrome has pretty simple controls. You can hold down X to speed up the movement of your character, or triangle to make him stop for a second, giving you time to think or readjust the camera before sending him on his merry way once again. Of course, the majority of your control comes from manipulating camera angles. This is done with the analog stick or d-pad, and you can increase the sensitivity of both of these using the R shoulder button.

Most of the movements you'll be doing will have to do with perspective traveling, which is connecting two distant platforms using perspective. Since connecting two platforms requires a little coordination, the game provides you with a button (square) that automatically snaps two platforms into place. Unfortunately, the snap feature doesn't work so well, and sometimes connects two radically different platforms than the ones you need to connect; it does not always snap to the connection which requires least camera movement. I would have preferred if holding down the square button made the edges of two platforms ripple or something, then allow you to toggle possible connection points in order to pinpoint exactly what you needed. But this isn't a huge problem as I was able to connect the platforms on my own anyway.

The game has other quirks, too. In order to allow two distant pieces to be connected, your view of the game is somewhat artificial in that there is no perspective; an object far away is the same size as one that is close to the camera. This can make the game feel disorienting when rotating the camera, but it also means that the game does not take place within tangible space. Thus, if the player is on a platform, they are anchored to that platform, but if they're in midair due to a trampoline or a hole, they aren't anchored to any object and aren't even in a specific location! This means rotating the camera while the player is in midair can lead to some 'interesting' side effects in which the player may behave unpredictably.

Another glitch stems from the rule that you can patch a hole in Echochrome by obstructing the camera's view of it. For instance, I created a level which was a giant flat wall, and behind it I put a bunch of squares such that the player would walk over nonexistent bits of ground with every other step. The rule (called perspective existence) triggered sometimes and not others, and I was unable to deduce why.

Some people have also complained about the lack of direct control over the player. While it is somewhat annoying that the player may face the wrong direction when landing on a platform and screw up your completion time, I feel like the lack of control put more emphasis on the camera controls. Additionally, the player at least follows a consistent pattern of hugging the left walls and edges of its environment. You may not understand why the player is behaving a certain way when you first start playing, but within half an hour or so of gameplay, it should be so second nature you may not even realize why you can predict the player's behavior so well.

Despite having incredibly simple gameplay (the level editor only has 6 block types!) the level design keeps the game surprisingly fresh. Some have patterns that you have to crack in order to figure out super-effective exploits, while others are just a motley mess that you have to make sense out of. Whether they're easy or hard, all of the levels are fun and will challenge you to hone your skills for the best times. Let me stress here that the level design is extremely intelligent, and all 56 of the levels this game comes with are very well-crafted.

Last, I should also mention the game modes. Most of the time you spend will probably be in the Atelier, or level selection screen. From here you can view all of your best times and play whichever level you want. Levels are divided into letters and numbers, the letters also being courses. For instance, selecting Course A will start the entire A course, from A1 to A8, all in a row. You'll be timed for the entire course, as well as having the chance to set a record for the individual levels. This is great because even if you have great times in each level individually, the full courses will guarantee that you aren't slipping by with beginner's luck. Also note that taking too long on a level will make you fail the entire course. This happens very rarely (I think you have to spend 5+ minutes on a level, when most levels take about half the time and most, with practice, can be beaten in about a minute) so it's not a huge issue.

If you just want to relax and enjoy the game non-objectively, there's also a Freeform mode which just gives you random levels one after the other, including those from the level editor. This is especially useful for showing the game to a friend.

Last, you have Canvas, which is the level editor. From here you can place normal blocks, stairs, holes, trampolines, echoes, and your starting point in 3D space. It's pretty easy to use; just control the camera with the analog stick and the cursor with the d-pad. Depending on the angle, you can adjust which planes the cursor operates on. Of course, it's still kind of strange drawing with no perspective, and it will probably confuse you a bit, but you'll get used to it. My biggest annoyance with the level editor is that you have invisible boundaries in all directions preventing you from making a level too big. This isn't a huge problem on its own, but it means you have to plan exactly where you want the center of the level to be so that the game camera isn't zoomed out too far. I wish the game would automatically re-center the camera based on a level's size rather than its coordinates.

Story

Despite the brilliant concept, Echochrome has no story. This is a real shame, since I could foresee some brilliant Eli Piilonen-styled fantasy or sci-fi storyline based on unreality.

Graphics/Sound

I don't even know where to start here. This game is entirely black and white (except for a red cursor in the level editor), and looks and sounds a lot like the Flash game Fig. 8. The visual style is extremely artistic in a minimalistic sense, and the character's walking animation is also very good, which is kind of a must since it's just about the only animation you'll be seeing in the game.

Although the black-on-white color scheme can get tiring on the eyes, you can go into the options (labeled Etc) and change the brightness so that the game looks more black and gray than black and white. Highly recommended.

The soundtrack is composed of beautifully haunting classical melodies played exclusively on violins, violas, and cellos. I was surprised to learn that the music was composed just for this game, given how much Echochrome resembles an independent, small budget game. But the music is absolutely FANTASTIC!! It's relaxing and lively and stimulating all at the same time, and really helps you think.

The sound effects are barely noticeable, and I nearly forgot to mention they even existed. You can hear quiet footsteps (important when you're using perspective absence or perspective existence) as well as polite, minimalistic sounds for the trampolines, holes, and when you pick up an echo. There's also a little 'whoops' sound when you fall off the map entirely, before you respawn.

Play Time/Replayability

It took me between three and four hours to beat all of the courses (and hence all of the levels). I could go for better times, of course, but it's really best to have someone to compare times with if you want nice solid objectives. The level editor gives this game potentially very high replayability, though. There's also an expansion pack for $15 which includes new levels. I haven't purchased it, though.

Final Recommendation

This game is so incredibly fresh and original I can't even begin to describe how much this game is worth your $10. If you want to support these types of games rather than the endless generic shooters and RPGs that are dominating the market, then put your money where your mouth is and buy this game. This is a purchase you WILL NOT regret.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/18/12

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


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