|System: PS3, PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Japan Studio (SCEJ)||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Sony||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 1, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
For a puzzle game, Echochrome is graciously forgiving. If your character falls into the white void (essentially death), you don't have to restart at the beginning of the puzzle. The echoes (provided you touched at least one) act as checkpoints. The game will respawn you at the last touched echo, and you're on your way again. Also, the game features a skip option that can be used during any puzzle. If things get too tricky, you can opt to jump past the current puzzle and try out a new one.
Two modes split up the main game: freeform and atelier. The first acts as a shuffle mode. One of the game's 56 levels is picked at random, and by sliding a bar to the left or right, the game will select an easier or harder puzzle, respectively. The PlayStation 3 version has a bonus that the PSP version does not. During the shuffle, puzzles can download from PSN, and you're given the option to play those as well. Since it has been out in Japan for some time, the majority of user-created levels are from there. Atelier is a more relaxed experience. Instead of shuffling levels around, you can go through the game's individual puzzles by accessing a portfolio. It is made up of seven letter-labeled rows (from A to G in order of increasing difficulty).
The game ships with a handy level editor dubbed canvas. Using this tool you can construct your own levels, save them, and add them to a special user-created section of the atelier mode. The PlayStation 3 allows a seemingly unlimited number of special tiles (like jumps and pits). You can upload levels to PSN to share with other users. Thankfully the game makes users test and complete every level before it accepts it accepts a submission.
Echochrome's restrained aesthetic extends to the visuals and audio. The game's black-and-white etchings do an excellent job of replicating Escher-inspired environments. However, the audio doesn't fare as well. The droning violin comes off as a nice touch at first, but it's hard to be a fan of it for long as it continually loops through every facet of the game. It would have been nice to have some more tracks. The game also illustrates why the PSP and PlayStation 3 need in-game XMB - solving puzzles to your own custom soundtrack would have been a nice touch.
Even with all the things it does right, Echochrome has its fair share of quirks. For one, sometimes pathways simply don't line up. No matter how hard you try and how nice a fit it may seem, the camera just doesn't see what you see from time to time. Also, the jumping mechanic takes a while to get a hang of and suffers from the occasional glitch. On more than one occasion the character jumped through a pathway directly above him. Now, this did help complete the puzzle, but it shouldn't have actually worked. For a world with such strict rules, any dissonance sticks out. The decision to put the game on two platforms is nice, but it results in stratification: they both have 56 unique levels, meaning that if you want all 112 you have to buy both versions and boot up the appropriate one to play the developer-created level you desire.
Ultimately Echochrome is a concept wrapped up in a game - its minimalist design philosophy paired with new mechanics will win it praise from the games-are-art crowd. However, some gamers may find the mechanics and puzzles fairing on the esoteric side. It's nice to see Sony embrace a title like this, and the small price tag ($9.99) makes it a worthwhile download for users to experience.
CCC Freelance Writer