Echochrome Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

PlayStation 3
Release date:
May 1, 2008


Blazing its own surreally minimalist trail.

Review by James Cunningham (Email)
May 22nd 2008

It's easy to be suckered into thinking the TV screen offers a window into a 3D world, but it's only a flat picture that we're pretending has physical consistency. We've gotten really good at it, aided by consoles designed around 3D processing, but the machine doesn't care one way or another if gravity is wrong, perspective is screwy, or even if we walk through "solid" objects. Gravity, perspective, and physics are all lies our gaming machines tell us, and Echochrome is more than happy to use those lies as the basis of its gameplay.

Echochrome is a fairly simple puzzle game about a mannequin walking through a maze. The mannequin walks in a straight line unless it hits a left turn, which it will always take. There are shadowy Echo-people waiting on the maze, which the mannequin collects when it walks through. It can't push or pull blocks, jump, manipulate its environment in any way, or do much more than stop and walk faster. So it's up to the viewer to see its world and create a path to the Echoes that shouldn't exist.

There's a lot to like in this simple and bizarre little game, with the potential for limitless content and a good variety of mazes already available.

Each level in Echochrome is a broken path through space filled with gaps, staircases, holes, and even trampolines. It's laid out in straight lines and tidy ninety degree corners, and can be spun around to be viewed at almost any angle. Five laws govern how paths can be created, but it all boils down to "what you see is what you get." If a gap in the road is covered up by a pillar, it might as well not exist. If a hole looks like it will drop the mannequin onto a path that you know is nowhere near, then it will. Paths are created by seeing them, even if a slight change in angle shows that they don't exist. They're real from that viewpoint, and that's good enough.

This leads to all kinds of clever and free-form puzzle solving. A relatively simple layout can have multiple solutions, limited only by the creativity of the player. One person might bridge a gap by blocking it from view, while someone else could line up the end of the path on one side of the gap with the side of another so they look like one unbroken whole. It's even possible to block the gap, cause the mannequin to fall through by changing the view while he's in the middle of walking across it, and then spin the camera around to have it land on a completely different part of the maze.

While these are all very neat ideas, and presented in a cool black and white style with peaceful musical accompaniment, there are a few small problems that nearly manage to break the game. Connecting paths by making them look attached can seem arbitrary, needing just the perfect angle to merge. There's a “Snap” button to make the maze click into place when trying this, but as often as no it'll focus in on another two paths that are near each other than the one you're focusing on. Sometimes the mannequin will fall through a hole and not land on the path that it looks like it should hit, and landing a trampoline jump can be pure trial and error. If this was a high-pressure game with bullets flying, these issues would be deal-breakers, but fortunately Echochrome is pure relaxation even when it's cracking your skull open on the more complex mazes. The relaxed nature of the game turns these problems into mild annoyances, and all is forgiven (although not forgotten) after a particularly tricky level gives up a clever solution.

If solving puzzles either gets old or repetitive, Echochrome comes complete with a full level editor that, while somewhat clunky to use, will let you create anything you can come up with. These levels can be uploaded to friends for some time-attack action, and the best will even be made available as free add-on packs eventually. A central level repository such as that in Trackmania would have been best, but this isn't a bad second place.

There's a lot to like in this simple and bizarre little game, with the potential for limitless content and a good variety of mazes already available. Echochrome is a very clever puzzle game that messes with your perceptions while teasing your brain, and if Sony can just iron out some of the quirks in the execution it'll be pure excellence. At present though, Echochrome's inconsistencies are just obvious enough that they can't be ignored, but the overall package is so creative and addicting that it's impossible not to recommend.

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