Some of the simplest puzzle games have gone down in history as being some of the best. You don't necessarily have to have a puzzle game be riddled with intricacies in order for it to be fresh and new. Sony has taken the idea of simplicity to an all new level with Echochrome, and in turn have churned out one of the best puzzle games this generation will see.
Echochrome relies on five very simple gameplay principles, all of which are explained in the game. The first is "Perspective Traveling"; by pivoting the canvas around, you can manipulate your perspective to connect ledges together, allowing the mannequin to walk across what was once a gap. The second "law" is called "Perspective Landing". Think of the canvas is two-dimensional; so when you see a black hole, have the canvas line-up so that when your character drops through, he'll drop to a ledge directly below it.
"Perspective Existence" is the next applied law; this principle says that if you can't see something, it isn't there. So, by rotating the canvas, you can position an object to block the view of a gap - so if you can't see the obstacle, it doesn't exist anymore. The fourth law is "Perspective Absence", which is basically the same thing as "Perspective Existence", but deals with blocking holes and jumps. Finally, "Perspective Jump" is the last law, and it says that if you jump above a ledge, you will land on it - pending on if your perspective is set correctly.
The game will show you examples of each law, and they're all extremely simple to understand. Once you begin playing, everything becomes second-nature. You rotate the canvas using either of the analog sticks, and to speed up the rotation just hold R1. Triangle makes the mannequin stop, giving you time to think, meanwhile holding X will make him walk quicker. The goal of the game is to collect all of the "echos" scattered around the canvas by applying these laws to help you get to them.
There are three gameplay modes: Freeform, Atelier, and Canvas. Freeform throws you into a series of stages, Atelier allows you to play a stage one-by-one, and Canvas is a level creator. Each stage is limited to 10 minutes of game time, and your progress is timed; the Atelier mode is a great way to gain experience and set speed records. As of now, there are 56 levels to play through (different levels for PS3 and PSP versions, totaling over 100), and with the ability to create your own, the possibilities are extremely vast. All in all, for a $10 package, Echochrome offers a very fulfilling and very addictive experience, it's one of the best puzzle games I've played since Capcom's Super Puzzle Fighter.
In terms of visuals, as can tell by the screenshots, Echochrome is extremely simplistic. There are three-dimensional shapes composed of black lines, a mannequin walking around collecting shadows...and that's about it. The game is capable of rendering at 1080p, but, of course, considering how simplistic it is, that's to be expected. Unfortunately, there are jagged lines, which is weird, but I suppose for a $10 game you shouldn't really expect a visual masterpiece.
The audio is perhaps the best technical part of the game, as Echochrome boasts this marvelous soundtrack with tunes that are put together with violins and cellos. It fits the game like a glove, and so far may be one of the best videogame soundtracks I've heard all year - and certainly one of the best this generation. It's a very beautiful and relaxing compilation, and at the same time extremely engrossing. Other audio bits include a voice over that explains the tutorial to you, and a few scattered sound effects here and there. But it's the soundtrack that shines here - absolutely stunning.
I'm a sucker for puzzle games, and there's no doubt that Echochrome is easily one of the best I've ever played. What looks like a complicated game is actually one of the most accessible. It gets progressively harder the more you play, but as long as you apply the set of five laws to each puzzle, you will find your way through it. Even though it's not visually amazing, the soundtrack is a crowning achievement and is without a doubt my favorite this entire generation. As a downloadable game, Echochrome offers far more for $10 than most games offer for $60. You do not want to miss out on this incredible gem.
5/10/2008 Arnold Katayev