Monochroma Review: Colorless

May 26th, 2014 -

If you’ve never heard of Monochroma, it’s been pitched as Limbo meets Ico. To put that in more descriptive terms, it’s a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that has you escorting your younger brother through a monochromatic world. The game has no dialogue, minimal controls, and plenty of puzzles as you discover the story.

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The first thing that attracted me to Monochroma, as is the case with most things, was the art style. I love Limbo‘s art style, and while I didn’t see much in terms of gameplay, the trailers and their paper cutout feel in a monochromatic color scheme had me intrigued. Monochroma certainly feels inspired by Limbo, despite utilizing three-dimensional settings/characters. In general, the world is black and white, and the red bits are decorative (often symbolic) and later on lethal. The style really shines in some levels (apartments come to mind), while it feels a bit too much like Limbo in others.

The game itself is simple enough – you have your left and right movement, then up and down which is only used for ladders, and also serves as your jump/drop buttons. In addition to that you have the “use” button, which will push/pull/let you control a switch, and then a pick up/put down button for your brother that you must escort. In regards to the brother, when you are holding him, you can’t jump as high as you can without him, making a good majority of the puzzles not how do you progress, but how do you make it so you can progress with him. And you can’t just set him anywhere you like – he is afraid of the dark, so you must find an area that is illuminated. This limits the possibilities in which you can solve the puzzle, which may either frustrate you, or be a hint as to what you are capable of doing.

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While some puzzles did have me thinking I was an idiot, I felt the game performed best when it forced you to be quick about what you were doing. When you are being chased, the game feels like it’s really coming to life and you just sort of let intuition take over. There is still some puzzle solving, to an extent, but it’s the most fun I had while playing. When it’s fair, of course. In some cases the script for a chase is triggered by something too early which causes you to die right when you should be starting it. Other times the triggers never happen, and you’ll be stuck and confused as to whether it’s your fault or the game’s. Luckily there are very generous checkpoints, with the solving of each puzzle basically being a part you can load from.

The controls may not seem like something you may think about in a puzzle game, but that’s probably because in most cases you don’t need to think about them. They work well and don’t intrude on the game. While the controls aren’t hard to figure out, the timing and way they work isn’t what I’m used to. Limbo was all about the precise movement – it’s why there is an achievement for dying less than five times (very doable, not sure why so many people complain about it). When you know how to complete the puzzle, you are able to execute it without issue. That isn’t what I experienced with Monochroma. The most difficult part of the game was getting the boy to do what I wanted him to do. Jumping must be done a good second prior to when I wanted to do it (I’ve been playing a lot of Mercenary Kings which allows for Mega Man-esque edge platforming), and often times the jumps will be hindered by who knows what. I got stuck with puzzles I figured out because the platforming wasn’t consistent. I thought maybe my solution was wrong and would try something else before finally figuring out I needed to just hold jump and then move to the side at the height of it. And even then it was luck that would get me through certain parts.

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I really want to like Monochroma. I love the art, even with the silly bits of crashing through the environment by jumping. Some of the set pieces are really cool, and the story isn’t a bad one. The controls really got to me though. Maybe it’s not a big deal to others, but when you’re dying over and over doing what you are supposed to be doing, but the game just doesn’t process it… well, it’s frustrating to say the least. Perhaps a future update will fix it – hell, maybe it’s just my computer. There is a demo of it available; check it out and see if the controls will be a problem for you.

Monochroma is out May 28th on Steam, and is estimated to last you six hours – if you know how to solve the puzzles though, it’ll take substantially less. The title was developed by Nowhere Studios and made possible by Kickstarter. The title hasn’t had a price announced, but presumably it’ll be $15 based on Kickstarter tiers.

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Pros

  • Haunting art style/setting
  • Mood setting music
  • Many decent puzzles

Cons

  • Inconsistent controls
  • Fairly buggy
  • Precision necessary when it can’t be performed

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