Platforms: PlayStation 3 and PSP
Reviewed on PlayStation 3
Echochrome has players maneuvering a wooden artist's model through a line-drawn landscape where tricks of the eye reign supreme over the traditional rules of perspective. Wielding the power of optical illusions, puzzles are solved by manipulating the landscape to lead the strolling model to echoes of itself in seemingly impossible locations.
Most puzzle games use familiar rules, allowing us to operate within comfortable mental spheres, doing things like manipulating falling blocks (Tetris) or driving a car around a wacky landscape (Gripshift). Other games create interesting puzzles by transforming the very landscape of thought. For example, Braid threw platforming on its ear by changing the rules of time and space within the game, forcing players to jump through mental hoops to solve otherwise straightforward platforming puzzles.
Echochrome is a game of the latter sort. Its elegantly simple visuals outline a world where, instead of physics operating as we have learned it should work, things work as they appear. Which, while surprisingly simple in concept, is astonishingly difficult. A collection of shapes drawn with simple lines serve as the course around which an artist's model wanders, picking up echoes of itself to complete the puzzle. The trick is that by rotating the puzzle, sections will appear to blend, perilous pits disappear behind obstacles, and divergent platforms seem to hover above one another. Things in Echochrome work exactly as they appear, so when a pit can't be seen, it doesn't exist. And if it looks like you can fall from one area to another, you can.
Unfortunately, when you are working with a puzzle that, itself, defies geometry, it can be very difficult to predict exactly which way the figure will jump or fall. Most of the time, it's intuitive, but if your brain attempts to superimpose a sort of three-dimensional order on the playscape, you'll be more handicapped than most. The difficulty that I occasionally had controlling where the figure would walk is my only complaint concerning Echochrome. Also, since you are dealing with appearances rather than a conventional three-dimensional landscape, every puzzle typically has a correct solution. Only by figuring out the scheme underlying the puzzle and learning the right method of visualization and its associated path can puzzles be solved in anything approaching the optimal time.
Once you understand the basic way in which puzzles are played and solved, you can sit back and enjoy the game's many and varied mazes, competing for the best times on individual levels or runs of levels. Beyond the many cleverly constructed levels created by the development team, players can generate their own levels and share them, making for a tremendous supply of brain-teasers.
I personally found that after an initial extended burst of play, Echochrome is a game that I can come back to for a few levels at a time. While not something that can hold my attention for extended play sessions, the crisp visuals, remarkable minimalist soundtrack and fascinating puzzles make this an excellent game to revisit regularly for challenging fun.