Thursday, May 15, 2008

echrochrome (PS3) and echochrome (PSP Import) Review

Back in early 2007 when Sony first showed off echochrome I knew at that moment they had something really special in their possession. I had this game as my most anticipated game of 2007 (even ahead of Halo 3, Rock Band, The Orange Box and Call of Duty 4). The graphics didn't show anything, especially considering the game only has two colors, which are technically shades (Black and White) and the videos of the game didn't go into too much detail about the game. It seemed really simplistic and yet offered the player a challenge. Now in 2008, we have what is probably the best PlayStation Network game and right-now the front-runner for best Downloadable game on the market.

echochrome is a game based on perspectives. In the game you control a mannequin and you lead it around a course to check-points, which are what I call Shadows. While your objective is to get to the shadows, you're also racing against the clock to get these shadows. The game doesn't show you the clock, but if you click the select button twice, it will appear. There are five rules in the game: Perspective Traveling, Perspective Landing, Perspective Existence, Perspective Absence and Perspective Jump. You use these five rules to lead your character in these puzzles.

Before continuing, I have both the North American PS3 version which you download via the PlayStation Network and the Imported Japanese PlayStation Portable version which I purchased not too long ago. I decided to review both games at the same time since I've spent a lot of time with each of them and there are differences between the two.

The PlayStation 3 Review

echochrome of the PS3 was released simultaneously with the PSP version on May 1st. Both are downloadable titles and only 9.99 each. The game contains 3 modes. In Freeform, you are given random levels to complete. You can control the difficulty of the levels during the loading screen by simply changing the settings from Easy (1) to Hardest (5). The easiest puzzles should only take you about 1-2 minutes to complete, but the harder ones will probably take you the full amount of time. If there is a level you don't like, fret not, you have the ability to skip a level and play something else.
The second mode is called Atelier. Here you are given the ability to choose whichever level you want to play. In both the PS3 and PSP version you have 56 possible levels, each unique to both systems. The game keeps track of how long it takes you to complete a level and gives you the opportunity to play with friends to see who can get the better time. Also, here you can do a whole group of levels (separated by letters, A,B,C,etc...) and see how long it will take you to complete each difficulty of levels.
The final mode is called Canvas. Here in canvas mode, you have the ability to create your own levels. If you really want to challenge yourself and people you know, this is a great place to spend some time. Sony has done a really incredible job with this by allowing people to submit their levels and if they like what you've create, they will distribute them to other gamers around the world. The Japanese already had this game for more than a month before it was released here so you can already start downloading and playing their levels. Unfortunately, you can only play them in Freeform mode and you can't save them (just yet). Also, they are week-long exclusives, so, you won't get to play with a fan favorite for very long. The PSP version doesn't have downloading, but you can trade with your friends via ad-hoc.

The games graphics although simplistic are very well done. The use of 3-D blocks do their and really look good both on a small screen or on a bigger-widescreen television. The sound is also really great for the tone of the game. It reminds me of the soothing music heard in museums so it might not appeal to all. Probably the option of playing this game with custom soundtracks might have been nice, but does not deter the experience. The controls work well but you will only really use your analog stick (either one), the X button to rush your character (run), Triangle to think (technically pauses the game, without actually stopping the timer). The only other button which you should use is the Square button, which actually helps you out with Perspective Travelling and Existence. Hit the square button and it will 'connect' blocks flush so you can move your character from one spot to another.

The games does have it's minor flaws. For one, while there is more than one way to solve any puzzle, there are sometimes where only one way will get the job done. The other problem with that is there are ways to 'cheat'. You can do something by mistake and get where you need to go, and at the same time, when you think you're doing the right thing, you can't get your character to do what you need it to do. It's can be frustrating at times, but again, it doesn't ruin your experience.

The Imported PlayStation Portable Review

The Japanese version of the game is significantly different than the North American release. For starters, unlike the NA version which only contains 56 levels per system (each unique) the Japanese version has 96 levels (12 Letter groups with 8 stages each). The names of the modes are also different. Freeform is called Infinite, Atelier is called Box while Canvas is still the same. The other huge difference is the inclusion of 2 additional side-modes in both Infinite and Box modes.

In the North American release you can only play Solo mode. Here you control your white character and move it around the level to the shadow check-points. But in the Japanese edition, you have two additional play types. The After Solo, you have Pairs. In Pairs, you have both two White Characters and two Black Characters walking around the levels. What you need to do is to have the two white characters join and the two black characters join to create two new Grey characters. Once you've done that, you need to combine the two Grey characters to complete the level. It really adds a new spin on the levels as you now have to lead more characters on the screen. The easier levels again can be completed in a matter of moments, but as you get into the harder levels, you will have to use various strategies to get them together.
The other additional mode is called Others. In Others, you control one white character and it must reach the shadow-check-points. But this time you have black characters that act as enemies on the course. If you touch them, it's like dying and you must restart at your last check-point. Now you're trying to complete the level and fight off this opposition in order to reach the goal(s). This mode is extremely challenging as you will try to 'lead' the black characters as far away from your main character to complete the puzzles.

When playing Infinite mode, you might have to play these levels. You can't really decide which mode to play here, but thankfully with the skip feature, you can simply move to another level if you do not like what you are playing. In Box mode, you have the option of selecting which mode you want, but if you decide to play the timed Group (letter) stages, you will have a random selection here.

I have not played the North American PlayStation Portable mode so I do not know if this mode is exclusive to the PSP or not. It does seem clear that the North American PS3 version does lack this feature, but it's not to say that Sony might offer this addition sometime down the road, but at a small additional cost to the gamers.

echochrome is a Fantastic game that should be played by all. While playing this game on the PS3, I managed to get my sister hooked on it and even my friends who were watching her play couldn't stop staring at the screen. While the easy levels are a breeze to play, the larger and harder levels will absolutely challenge you, almost to the point of frustration. The game does require quick acting and careful thinking, so those who are looking for a game to waste time, may be put off. At only 9.99 (plus taxes), this is an extremely affordable game. If you purchase both the PSP and PS3, you're spending less than 20 dollars and getting a lot of value at it, and a very fair price for the genre in question. Also, because of the ability to download and share levels in the PS3 version, it gives it even more value. It is a bit of a disappointment that the North American version does lack the extra modes of the Japanese version, you just have to look at the cost and realize that you're still paying for a lot of value. I strongly suggest if you own a PS3 to pick up this title thanks to the downloading option. It's a small download, but a game that you will want to play again and again and to show off to your friends.

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