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September 1 2008
Echochrome - PSP Review
Release Date Distributor Publisher Developer
18/7/2008SonySonySony Japan
Save Size Difficulty Players Rating

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Echochrome's graphics are simplistic.
So, you've probably seen all the screenshots of that game which looks like Tetris meets and M.C. Escher painting of impossible upward stairs leading downwards, and you've thought to yourself "so - what's so good about that game?". Well... being the odd looking game that it is, without seeing it in motion or playing it yourself you're not going to understand what makes this game just so good – it's amazingly simple, yet astonishing that the concepts behind the gameplay haven't been unearthed in a videogame before (not that I'm aware of anyway). In today's age where everything seems to be focussed on high-definition eye-popping visuals, Sony Japan have gone against the masses to produce this living, breathing optical illusion. Is it good? No, this game is great.

The gameplay in Echochrome is simple; you have to guide the mannequin character through the ghost figures in each of the levels – reach all of the ghosts and you pass the level. Unfortunately the mannequin is like a lemming on autopilot – it'll just keep on walking, even into oncoming pits and dangers. Your role in the game is to control the level by rotating the camera around the outside; if you make obstacles appear hidden behind blocks, then they will also be 'hidden' to the mannequin! In a similar fashion, if you make two separate platforms appear to be touching, then they will magically join together, and the mannequin can walk across them. In this optical-illusion-controlling fashion (with several 'laws' that are outlined in the in-game tutorial) you progress throughout the game's various levels.

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Rotating to below the level.
It's obvious that the PSP can push far more impressive visuals than this, but it's the simplicity of the line art and no shading whatsoever that adds to the appeal. I'll admit when I first saw it I thought it was some weird-looking cousin of the original Asteroids or Battle Tanks, but textures and fancy lighting would probably just clutter up the screen and detract from the impossibility of Echochrome's physics.

The menu system blends in with the game perfectly, though rather than sticking purely with vectors it goes with a slightly contemporary black and white feel. Level selection screens bunch the included levels together by difficulty level, and completion time records are saved for each level also. With over 50 levels bundled in with the game (the later ones which will take well over an hour of thinking, each to complete), there's enough puzzles such that you won't be experiencing that déjà-vu feeling too soon.

Furthermore, as 56 levels aren't enough to keep you going, there's also a level-editor bundled in with the game for free. While I appreciate the effort the developers have put in to make this user-friendly tool available with the game, I really question how many people will actually put it to good use. I mean, even some of the simpler levels in the game take a moment or two of thinking to work out, but to come up with these levels you'd have to have some bizarre backwards-working spoon-bending mind like Rain-man. Compare it to making your own Sudoku puzzle by putting the few starting numbers in yourself; sure it may look good on the surface, but to make a level that actually 'works'... it isn't a straightforward process.

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Some Echochrome levels are easy.
To address the audio, I'm not sure if anyone else in the world remembers, but in the original Tetris on the Gameboy there were 3 music types; A (the traditional Tetris tune); B (a cheesy 'cowboy western' theme) and C type (a classical harpsichord piece). The music throughout Echochrome is along the same veins of the Tetris C-type tune – it's classical, but not in a huge concerto or Elizabethan tea-party way, but more-so a 'thinking persons' classical style. It's hard to describe, but it's the style of music which just makes you 'feel' smarter by having it going in the background. That said, I'm sure the bulk of PSP users aren't the biggest classical music fans, so the tunes here might not be their cup of tea.

Aside from the music, there isn't much to the sound effects in Echochrome, though with the game being more about thinking than on-screen action, it's understandable. A ghostly female voice has a very limited commentary for simple events such as beginning and completing levels, as well as 'dying' (by falling into never-ending space for instance). Again, like much of Echochrome; it has been done simply, almost to a minimalistic level, but it fits in with the rest of the game perfectly.

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Ready to start the Echochrome level?
Just to digress for a moment to my nerdy engineer point of view, I think the developers would have initially shat bricks when they were faced with the prospect of this game. From a traditional platformer development mindset, with pre-defined bounds and rules, Echochrome takes all the 'normal' concepts and way of thinking and dumps it on its head. The player walking over hidden gaps and dropping to platforms in a gravity-defying act, I'm assuming, would have to be evaluated from the camera point-of-view rather than your typical 3D-gamespace proximity calculations. Long nerdy story short: while the gameplay seems so simple and intuitive to pick up and play, programming the physics behind the game would have been anything but simple. And the fact that it feels so 'right' is tribute to how well Sony Japan has done with the engine.

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm a big fan of Echochrome; there's just something about a game where the concept of creating physically impossible shapes and paths just by moving a camera – and it just plays so 'right', like an extension of your illogical subconsciousness. My only concern is how Echochrome will stand to the test of time; it's good, but how good will it be months or years down the track? I know that over a month into owning it I'm still getting into it on the train on an almost daily basis just to wake my brain up – it's an effective short pick-up-and-play game, though you'll happily spend over an hour for the satisfaction of cracking some of the harder puzzles. Retailing at under $50 though, this game is a steal, and I have little doubt that we'll see other developers using the concepts behind this game for other games (puzzlers and otherwise).

Review By: Chris Gobbett

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GRAPHICSSimple, but elegant at the same time – think 'artistic'.
SOUNDLike the visuals; minimalist, but they suit the game well.
GAMEPLAYPlaying this game will open your mind up – it’s great!
VALUEWill last a long while, and it's also downloadable from the PSN Store.
OVERALLEchochrome is a unique yet high quality game which we haven’t seen the likes of in the puzzle genre for a little while now. It’s great in both short and long doses alike, and while it doesn’t exactly look like an award-winner from screenshots, they’ll definitely be talking about this game for years to come.

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