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Echochrome Preview

Chris_Hudak By:
GENRE Puzzle 
E Contains No Descriptors

What do these ratings mean?

Black and White and WTF? all over.

If ever there were a stock image in the communal gamer mind for ‘maximizing your minimality,’ then Echochrome gameplay footage could assume its duties - looping endlessly like an artsy video in a highbrow nightclub. At the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo show, Sony boasted that this strange, weirdly elegant little game offers the least graphics yet the most gameplay — a seemingly strange thing to brag about, during the extended look-at-me fest that is E3.

click to enlargeTake the mindset of an old-school puzzler like Lode Runner or Jumpman, drain it of color and visual substance until you’re left with the stark lines, eye-twisting geometries and visual tricks of M.C. Escher at his most puritanical. Then force the player to question the architectural veracity of the gameplay environment (in the vein of Sega’s recent Crush)— and whoomp, there it is. We’re gonna file this one in the “not a game to play while drinking” category.

Echochrome’s environments are simply-presented, black-and-white line drawings of beams, walkways, staircases and landings, tangled in 3-dimensional space and hovering in a white void. The simplest of them are no more complicated than a floating, featureless beam with a single bend or staircase, but they quickly take on the subjective-view qualities of that common, textbook optical illusion—the structurally-impossible, three-pronged object (sometimes called the Impossible Trident).

As with the aforementioned Crush, these environs can be rotated and viewed from any angle…indeed, they have to be. Almost immediately, players who attempt to navigate their little black-and-white minimal-man from one game environment to the next will discover that they must use tricks of spatial perspective to get past each level. If the player is walking on a short horizontal beam separated by a small gap from another beam, for example, the only way to bridge the gap is to move the camera in such a way that the two beams appear to touch…or in such a way that an intervening vertical beam temporarily hides the gap from view — at which point the ‘gap’ is for all purposes no longer there.

click to enlargeLike an ostrich with its head in the sand, Echochrome firmly believes that if you cannot see it, it does not existWatching this will help. In this strange world, the tree that nobody’s around to see fall really doesn’t make a sound (existentially speaking). Take that awkward sentence, uppity Buddhists, and meditate on it.

The floating, black-and-white tangles of navigable walkways obviously get more and more complicated in their structures (sometimes forming recognizable meta-shapes or even spelling out words — another call-out to puzzler games of yore Lode Runner and Jumpman) as the game progresses, and they can also be littered with drop-holes and bounce-pads to continually challenge the player to guide his little stick-figure avatar hither and yon about the environments. Before long, the game can be called ‘simple’ only in terms of its artistic style. Spatially, it can get very hairy — and will doubtless scrape up some very stark, weird dreams in the heads of the more geometrically-sensitive gamers out there.

The deceptively-simple-looking Echochrome will be available for the PSP as a regular UMD title, and as downloadable content via the Playstation Network for the PS3. If you’re a firm believer in the “gameplay first, flashy visuals second” school of game design, Echochrome should be right up your subjective, Euclidean, monochrome alley.
More GR previews for this game:
Echochrome preview posted on 08/07/07.

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