On paper, it’s obvious what ChromaGun will be compared to. A first-person puzzler set inside the white walls of a laboratory with an unfinished weapon that needs testing out? “That’s Portal!” we hear you scream. And if you were to look at it that simply, then indeed it is – but that would take away from everything that Pixel Maniacs’ debut console game does differently. It doesn’t achieve anything ground-breaking, but ChromaGun is far more than just a Portal clone.
You play as an unnamed test subject who has been brought in to test out the all new ChromaGun, a weapon that can shoot coloured paint onto various surfaces. The gun is evaluated through various examinations that you take part in, while a humorous commentator guides you from room to room as you progress. He’ll crack a few jokes, make playful jabs at the player, and offer a tip of two if you’re stuck. The man behind the tannoy is the sole driving force in terms of any plot developments, as the story remains very light throughout as the ChromaGun itself takes centre stage.
The weapon can shoot three colours: red, blue, and yellow, which can then be mixed together on surfaces to form purple, orange, and green. Every stage comes with the simple objective of unlocking the exit door, and this is done by positioning moving spheres known as WorkerDroids on top of activation pods that can unlock a part of or all of the exit’s lock. The droids are attracted to the colour you paint them, so a WorkerDroid covered in blue will want to find the nearest blue surface, and vice versa for every other colour. Things start out fairly simple as you simply have to navigate the droids to their designated activation pod, but things quickly escalate.
Obstacles such as electrified floors, translucent walls that hinder a WorkerDroid’s progress, and surfaces that quickly get rid of the paint applied to them are introduced, and this is what gives many of the stages their complexity. The game will regularly leave you in a stump as you have to work out how to get the droids to their nominated position, as well as avoiding the traps that could either kill you or destroy the worker. To make things even tougher, many of the WorkerDroids actually have a mean streak to them as when they’re not in range of their desired colour, they’ll begin attacking you. This however can also be used to your advantage as you create a sort of cat and mouse effect where you lead the droid to where you want them.
ChromaGun’s gameplay loop leaves you with a satisfying high after every room completion. The obstacles put in place help to make the act of navigating the WorkerDroids a much tougher task, and it’s a far better game for it. Combining the colours becomes a far more important mechanic as you progress due to the importance of positioning, and the act of luring the rogue droids to your desired position is always an intense but entertaining action. All in all, this is a puzzler with a great amount of depth. Unfortunately however, not everything is rosy.
ChromaGun suffers from some very harsh difficulty spikes. Even during the late game, you can be presented with a series of suspiciously easy rooms to then be presented with a stage that will leave you baffled. There isn’t a natural ramp up in difficulty as you progress, which is worsened by the fact that making a mistake feels overly punishing.
If you were to mix too many colours onto a surface, it turns the panel into a dark shade of brown which renders it useless. And in some cases you have to be incredibly precise with which surface you put your paint on as the WorkerDroid may need to avoid an electrified piece of flooring. Combine these two intricacies and you have the possibility of making a puzzle impossible to complete if you apply one too many colours to a surface. This can be quickly fixed via a restart but instead of resetting that particular puzzle, the game resets the entire room. This feels like too harsh of a punishment as all your work within that particular room is rendered moot if you were to mess up on one coloured panel.
Another area where ChromaGun becomes a little questionable is its presentation. The white laboratory walls do their job for the most part but many textures can look far too muddy up close, particularly on the colour shooting gun itself. This coupled with the occasional framerate drop makes for a slightly rough experience. However these flaws pale in comparison to the very, very frequent load times. Every single new room brings with it a noticeable load screen, and considering there’s roughly eight rooms for each of the eight chapters, you’re looking at over 60 load screens. They’re never too long to the point of frustration, but throughout our five hour playthrough, they most definitely took us out of the experience one too many times.
ChromaGun is a title that nails its core concept, but fluffs its lines in a few too many other areas. The colour-based puzzles brought to the table are a joy to solve with the surprising amount of depth mixing things up enough to never make you feel like you’ve seen the same brain-teaser twice. However, the punishment for failing a puzzle feels far too harsh at points, and coupled with the constant load times, an air of frustration can set in.