Videogamers are conditioned to see through the 2-D surfaces of their TV sets into 3-D virtual worlds where they control soldiers, adventurers or cars. Sony’s new handheld and downloadable game “Echochrome” is a collection of perspective warping puzzles that flips the conceptual switch and asks gamers to manipulate the world, not the character. The austere black-and-white design and mind-bending puzzles will have gamers buzzing, but the frustration that ensues from playing it for too long make “Echochrome” a better concept than game.
Each of the 56 puzzles (as well as additional downloadable user-made puzzles) in “Echochrome” features an artist’s mannequin who strolls forward across blocks and stairways. The challenge is to help the mannequin to a target destination by changing the viewing angle, at which point any perspective tricks become reality. If the gap between two walkways isn’t visible, the walkways connect. If a hole is hidden behind a pillar, it doesn’t exist. If one platform appears to be directly over another, the mannequin will land there if a jumping pad bounces it up.
The visual presentation is clean and elegant, consisting of thin black lines against a stark white background. It’s as austere as a Bergman film or an Ikea sofa. The only objects are holes and jump pads; there are no lava levels or space themed areas, no colorful backgrounds, and no spikes, crushing walls, or conveyor belts. Even the soundtrack is restrained and spare: slightly mischievous chamber music lends it all a very classical feel. “Echochrome” is obviously inviting comparisons to M.C. Escher.
Considering the amount of time and brain power necessary to stare at a puzzle and figure out its solution, “Echochrome” presents the very real threat of a headache. This is especially pronounced playing on a Playstation 3 hooked up to a large screen. After a while, “the aggressively white background starts to feel like colorless shouting.
Like the best puzzle games, there’s often an “a-ha!” moment when the solution clicks. But “Echochrome” requires a lot of fine tuning to get everything in place using the fussy camera controls. Sometimes the solution isn’t the solution because the camera angle won’t cooperate. Since most puzzles have multiple targets the mannequin must reach, there’s a lot of backtracking and retrying and working out which order to hit the targets.
A level builder is included for the creatively inclined, but coming up with puzzles is even more challenging than solving them. Those more into playing than building can use a “freestyle” mode in which downloaded levels created by other players are interspersed among randomly chosen levels within the game. There’s plenty of content here and it’s certainly unique. But it’s only going to appeal to a small subset of gamers for whom these sort of Escher-esque brain teasers are enjoyable instead of headache-inducing.