echochrome Review: Poppin', Lockin' and Thinkin'S

Sony touted it's minimalist PlayStation Network puzzler echochrome at E3 2007 as a game inspired by the classic, simple-but-deep rule sets of traditional brain teasers like the Chinese board game Go and the Rubik's Cube. Pitched as the PlayStation 3 game with "the least graphics and the most gameplay," echochrome lets players guide an animated artist mannequin through a blocky construct, picking up "echoes" via Escher-esque perspective bending.

echochrome, with its simple black and white line-work aesthetic is certainly lacking in the expected visual fireworks common in most modern games, as promised. But does it feature the proportionate gameplay of its inspiration?

Loved

The Concept: echochrome does a great job of delivering on its promise of innovative gameplay, as mind-bending puzzles increase in complexity, requiring creative thinking, patience and, occasionally, some quick reflexes. The stock puzzles are clever and often continue to surprise the player with new solutions that require an ever changing perspective.

The Graphics: Yes, the game is light on polygon pushing power and some increased visual depth wouldn't hurt, but it's still pleasant to look at. It's a welcome change from the standard puzzle fare, free from overused primary colors and tired color matching gameplay.

The Music: There's little in the way of interesting sound effects, outside of footsteps and a vague reminder that time is passing while you sort out each solution. The game's soundtrack is appropriately bare, a string quartet and voice providing a calming backdrop.

The Level Editor: After you've completed echochrome's stock set of 56 levels, you can create your own. The interface is a bit clunky, a bit challenging to wrap one's brain around—designing in a 3D space won't come easy to some—but the Canvas mode (and the ability to share puzzles) helps extend the game's shelf life. We'd find it hard to justify picking up both the PS3 and PSP versions, under the assumption that someone out there will go to the trouble of recreating the platform exclusive puzzles in the built-in level editor.

Hated

Semi-sloppy Rules: While some of echochrome's puzzle world rules are rock solid—falling through a black hole sends you straight down, hiding edges lets your move from path to path, regardless of each paths 3D location—some feel fudged. It's difficult to determine where you'll land when stepping upon a level's white bounce pads, adding some unnecessary and unwelcome challenge—especially when the mannequin gets hitched on something invisible and flails wildly in mid-air. Similarly, landing the mannequin on platforms below when falling through holes can have unexpected results.

Finicky Controls And Edges: Lining up edges sometimes doesn't work as expected. The avatar will obey boundaries that often appear to have disappeared and the "snap" function, performed with the square button and intended to help the player line up possible edge joins, is rarely helpful. Floaty analog controls and precision perspective changes with the D-pad don't help matters.

Oh, There's A Time Limit?: echochrome's minimal design can go too far, with vague game mode titles, a time limit you won't know about until it's too late—the clock isn't visible by default—and interface choices that are puzzling in a bad way.

echochrome is a great example of a game that takes a simple concept and extrapolates a fascinating suite of puzzles built around that concept. It can be at times both relaxing and exciting as one attempts to best each level's time limit or, after solving a puzzle, one's personal best. echochrome's other strongest suit may be that it provides modern gamers with the type of game that simply wouldn't be able to succeed at traditional retail, helping to further justify the existence and promise of digital distribution. It may not be the next Rubik's Cube or Go or Tetris in terms of near eternal replayability, but it's still a fascinating little gem of a title that, at only $10, should be played and enjoyed by anyone who owns a PlayStation 3 or PSP.

echochrome was developed by Sony Japan Studio, published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Retails for $9.99. Available on PlayStation 3 and PSP. Played "Atelier" mode to completion, played "Freeform" mode for 2 hours. Tested level creation and distribution.