With every new generation, there are those of us who think, "okay, this is the last we'll see of the puzzle genre." But then the generation passes and we were treated to some of the finest puzzle games ever made, primarily due to the vastly increased popularity of handhelds. The PSP is already home to several award-winning puzzle titles, including Lumines, Puzzle Quest, Practical Intelligence Quotient, Mercury Meltdown, Exit and Lemmings. And it won't be long before we can add another to the list (although we're still not sure when we'll see it in the U.S.): Echochrome. It's a puzzler the likes of which you've never seen before, and that's one of the reasons to consider an eventual purchase. Without a doubt, this dimension-oriented brain-buster is one of the most unique projects we've ever seen in gaming, so let's take a closer look at it. And before you ask, yes, there is a lot of white, and yes, that is a stick figure.
First revealed at this year's Tokyo Game Show, Echochrome is all about perspective. Now, while the following may sound extraordinarily scientific and complex, the actual gameplay shouldn't be anything but straightforward...how you solve the problem is another obstacle altogether. The game revolves around five crucial laws, and just so we don't greet you with a massive wall of text, here's a simple listing:
Subjective Translation- Change the perspective to connect existing paths.
Subjective Landing- Your character will land in what only appears to be "below."
Subjective Jump- Your will dictates your jump; if you can see it, perhaps you can jump it.
Subjective Existence- The path is there but you can't see it (remember "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?"
Subjective Absence- If you can hide a hole, it doesn't exist.
...there is no spoon. Or something to that effect. As you can see, there's a lot of subjectivity going on in Echochrome, but your brain will have to work quickly to achieve success. Your little stick figure is apparently both blind and deaf, as he will continue to walk along in a straight line, and you have to guide him to safety by manipulating his environment. In this way, the gameplay sounds very similar to Lemmings, but that game used only one dimension. In this game, what you see is what is real, and if you don't see it, it doesn't exist. Perhaps you saw the debut video from TGS 2007 and that gave you some hints, but we'll go into a bit more detail now. As your character starts off on the straight ‘n narrow, you'll see he's on a series of platforms connected by various things. There are jumping platforms he will automatically leap off of, holes he will fall through, and stairs he will climb. He will do all these things depending on the perspective; in other words, if you turn the level in such a way so that hole isn't there, he'll be fine. Get it?
It may sound like an exceedingly strange concept to have control over the environment and not the character, but that's why this game is so damn original. And there'd be virtually no challenge if you could control both; the difficulty will lie in manipulating the level fast enough to lead your character to the goal. By rotating the screen from axis to axis, you will create new and safer paths for the roving stick figure. Is there something standing in his way? Turn the level so that jutting wall is turned from view, which - as we covered before - means it simply doesn't exist. You have a shadow, which is called your "echo," and you have to follow it all around the level if you wish to complete the area. From what we've seen, the levels aren't very big at all, but thankfully, your character walks slow enough for you to take care of business. Echochrome may not be as fast-paced as other puzzlers in the past, but it will test our mental capacity in a brand new way. That may not appeal to everyone, but hey, it's definitely original, and that's always a bonus.
Finally, we have to expect memory will play a major role in finding victory in this game. If it's a matter of discovering the solution in a certain amount of time, it seems inevitable that we'll have to remember each correct move we make. It's highly unlikely we'll be able to "fix" every problem all in a row without a lot of trial and error, which means each level will be a work in progress. The more you learn, the more you'll have to remember in order to follow that "echo" around quickly and efficiently. There's a great deal of innovation jammed into a surprisingly small package, but don't they always say good things come in small packages? Yeah, we've heard that somewhere before. Like we said, the laws of perspective appear complicated at first, but there's only one all-encompassing fact: what you see is reality. You can't physically change anything, but if you don't like what you see, simply hide it or create another path. See? It's not that technical.
Echochrome should be available for download on the PlayStation Network, which can then be played on either the PS3 or PSP. Let's just hope SCE plans to bring it to all territories. We'll be awfully disappointed if we don't get a chance to play one of the most unique titles around.
11/1/2007 Ben Dutka