echochrome ii Review
Posted by Patrick Elliot
Go to the light
Sony hasn't offered up a huge selection selection of puzzling Move games just yet, with Tumble being the major entry in the genre to date. While that game certainly was a blast, many Move owners have been left yearning for some similarly stellar, motion-infused brain teasers. Enter echochrome ii, Sony's direct sequel to their MC-Escher inspired puzzler from 2008. While the first offshoot of the series, PSP's echoshift, strayed a bit from the original gameplay mechanic, echochrome ii presents a shadowy return to form.
The original echochrome was a mind-bending puzzler that used the player's perspective to manipulate the game world, spinning and turning the world's camera in order to open up new pathways and lead the game’s character from point A to point B. This sequel incorporates a similar mechanic that sheds the 360 degree camera rotation to keep a somewhat fixed perspective on each puzzle. Instead of moving the camera, the player now shines light over various objects and structures in order to cast a shadow on the wall in the background. Here we see our protagonist return, the same maquette figurine from previous titles, strolling steadily along a shadows of a shifting 2D landscape.
Right away, the first things that hits you about this game is its slick presentation. Menus are laid out like paper cut-outs and many icons looks like hand-drawn sketches. On top of that the menus are laid out on an architect's workstation, with sketches and diagrams strewn about. The music is great too, and anyone familiar with the series will immediately recognise the Hideki Sakamoto soundtrack. On top of that, the game features a walkthough world to get you going, explaining the mechanics of the game with clear instructions, examples and voice overs.
Using the controller as a sort of flashlight, you hold down the Move button to project a beam of light in the direction you are pointing, changing the arrangement of the shadows projected on the back wall. At the beginning of each level the figurine sits atop a shadowy swing somewhere above the puzzle, and will plummet down to the first shadow platform once you shine your light on him. If left alone, you man will walk continuously, doing an about face at dead ends. Your goal at first is to simply get him to the exit, though two more modes soon become available for each level. Much like in the original, holes in the ground will become passable if put out of view, enabling your man to walk safely past, and two seemingly separate walkways can be bridged by making their shadowy counterparts connect. This core mechanic works wonderfully, and the game's gentle controls and customisable sensitivity ensure you don't send your shadows sliding out of control.
To add to these basics the game also employs “trampolines,” small blue spheres whose shadows can be projected into walkways in order to create springboards. These orbs are also used to find the hidden exit in each level, done by hovering the sphere atop vertical rectangles, with an arched doorway appearing when done correctly. This adds a nice mystery to each level, as the goal isn't known right away, and helps teach you about manipulating the light and stretching shadows right off the bat.
The other main object you'll be using is shadow elevators, which enable the player to travel from one area to another via a portal. Throughout the levels are green arches, and if you connect two to different sides of a shadow mass, your character will disappear into the shadows and pop out on the other side. Getting all these shadows into place takes some fine tuning though, and if you don't set the sensitivity to your liking it may seem a bit difficult at first. Also, you can always release the Move button to take a break and reassess you actions. Be careful though: once you stop manipulating the light you character will push on, continually marching forward even if there is a hole in front of him that spells disaster.
Aside from reaching the goal, there are two other ways to play each level. The first is “echo,” which will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played the original game. Here there are copies of the main character spread about the landscape, standing still and waiting to be collected. You can die and fall off the screen all you want while trying to collect them, but they all must be collected within a set amount of time. Once they are all collected the level ends, with no need to find an exit.
The other mode, called “paint,” is completely new and tasks players with changing the colour of certain areas by walking over them. Here the figure (or in some levels, figures) take on a certain colour and must paint blocks by traversing their shadowy counterparts. Each area they traverse takes on a the colour of the character, and again, you can fall off all you want, just expect to get a 5 second penalty for doing so. This is the hardest of the three modes, as you must cover a huge portion of the level, sending you to areas of the puzzles that you might not have had to bother with in the other two modes.
Having three ways to play through each puzzle adds a lot of depth to each puzzle, as you have to tackle these worlds in completely different ways in each game mode. It also makes unlocking more levels much more fun, since if you get tired of playing the game's main mode, you can always just go to paint or echo mode. One problem you may encounter though is the invisible timer, as you may be only moments from finishing a puzzle only to be told you're out of time. This doesn't happen much since the game gives you a very generous amount of time to finish, but it can still be occasionally frustrating. Once you finish the puzzle, your completion time is revealed, and if you find your performance to be particularly impressive you can upload it to YouTube after punching in your login information.
Aside from these main game modes, there are also added bonuses to be collected in the form of “Shadow Art.” These are earned by aligning shadows in a certain way to reveal hidden images, and each one you find takes a spot in your "Shadow Art Gallery". The titles of these levels usually drop hints to help you figure out what it is you're looking for; for instance, one level is called "Legendary Racers", and reveals the image of a tortoise and a hare.
The part of the game that will likely eat up most of your time however is the “create” mode, which lets you craft your own levels and puzzle designs. Just like the original echochrome, you can share these levels online and download those made by others. In a move seemingly inspired by LittleBigPlanet, you can also slap stickers onto levels you try in order to categorise them, like “tricky” for tough ones or “not bad” for less exciting designs. You can even narrow your search according to these stickers, or simply go by the default rating system. Making levels takes some time, but is made very easy to grasp through the use of voiced tutorials, perhaps another point picked up from Media Molecule. Every level you create can be played in all three game modes.
The incredible amount of content offered up by this follow-up is well worth the asking price, and it's commendable to see a sequel the evolves the original game's mechanic rather than running it dry. The three game modes made available add an immense amount of play time to the puzzles, and also help to broaden the experience of creating your own levels. On top of that, it makes great use of the Move controller, and never feels gimmicky. That said, its a shame that players without a Move won't be able to enjoy this title, as the first game already proved these basic mechanics can be handled by the DualShock controller. Also, the invisible timer sometimes creates frustrating moments.
Nevertheless, its a great incentive to opt into the hardware, and for the money you get an huge amount of puzzles, not even counting the endless stream of content constantly being created online. Add to this the stellar soundtrack and gorgeous presentation and you have a package sure to please players of the original game and newcomers alike.