As a portable piracy box, the PSP is unmatched. As a legitimate game platform it lands somewhere between the Atari Lynx and Game Boy Micro. Sure, for me, even as a dedicated Lumines II box it’s one of my favorite consoles, but it’s hard to deny how much better the PSP could be. Along comes Echochrome, less a compelling game and more a tease at what the PSP could eventually become, a portable equivalent of Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade style services.
Echochrome is a puzzler in which you navigate an art studio figure along a series of platforms in something reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s Relativity. Perspective is everything in this game, and thoughtful camera manipulation is the key to success. Funny how much time we spend wrestling with camera controls in 3D games; now we have an entire game based around the concept. Not that it’s the first, or the last. Crush was released not to long ago for the PSP and featured similar concepts, and Fez, an upcoming game, also shares the idea of manipulating perspective to navigate the world. With Crush long forgotten and Fez still a mystery, Echochrome currently has the spotlight.
Unfortunately, while Echochrome is a novel concept, looks and sounds like nothing before it, and is generally entertaining for a while, it falters in two key aspects necessary for an addicting puzzle game: consistency and control. The rules of this world are boggling; occluding an object means it doesn’t exist, your avatar moves through the air on a two dimensional plane – landing on objects in the foreground or background, and if a gap in two paths is closed from your perspective it becomes closed in the game world. Everything revolves around how the world looks from the camera perspective – at least that’s the idea.
The biggest problem is that the game doesn’t follow its own rules. Falling through holes and jumping are usually the biggest culprits here, as I usually wasn’t very confident of where I would land. On occasion I’d connect two platforms, yet my avatar wouldn’t cross them, or he’d even cross over clear boundaries as if they weren’t there. When jumping it wasn’t always clear which way the figure would walk once it landed, sometimes going right for a hole like a mindless lemming. Guessing which way they would walk was especially problematic when connecting two parallel platforms into one large platform.
Due to all these oddities I found myself constantly making fine adjustments with the camera and jamming on the triangle button to start and stop my character. The complete lack of precision made the experience feel sloppy, a nail in the coffin for a puzzle game. It’s not completely game-breaking, as I did have fun with it in the beginning. However, as the novelty wore off and the puzzles became more demanding I felt as if I was slogging along with little desire to continue. If they’d just cleaned up the bugs and given the player more control the game could have been a masterpiece.
As it stands it’s nice to play a puzzle or two every once in a while. The possibilities are endless; it includes a simple level editor and regular puzzle packs are released online, so if you do end up addicted there’s plenty to justify dropping ten bucks on it. I will say the editor is a little confusing, and if you don’t plan ahead you may run into some issues. Good luck deleting anything, for example; chances are you’ll take a few other things with it.
I want to support this game as it’s potentially a milestone for the PSP. It’s one of the first small, cheap, downloadable PSP games on the Playstation Network service, and it gives me a lot of hope for the future. An easily accessible download service on the handheld itself (via wireless), with a selection a smaller games like Zuma, Pacman C.E., and Geometry Wars would ruin my wallet. I can’t with confidence tell you you should run to your computer or PS3 now and purchase Echochrome. However, there’s a demo available, so I highly suggest you check it out, and if it seems fun then I can at least promise you’ll get your ten dollars worth.