The advent of digital distribution platforms like XBOX Live, Steam, and the PlayStation Network provide developers and publishers a certain level of fidelity that has never been seen before. Small-time indie developers and multi-million-dollar publishers alike now have the ability to create small, experimental games and sell them for cheaper than anything feasible at retail. echochrome, published by Sony Computer Entertainment, is a perfect example of one of these experimental games. For $9.99, echochrome offers a unique, brain bending puzzle experience never before seen.

Developer “Game Yaruoze” has done the unthinkable by building an entire game based on optical illusions. The unique game engine made possible by the Object Locative Environment Coordinate System developed by Jun Fujiki has the game progress based on what the camera sees, and not what’s necessarily “there”. Coupled with a minimalist graphical presentation, this engine allows you to play through the impossible by manipulating optical illusions just like M.C. Escher.

The visuals are very minimalistic; with over sixteen million colors available to developers, echochrome chooses to stick to the basics with a purely black and white presentation. Several platforms are suspended midair, on these platforms perpetually walks a white mannequin. Your goal is to get this mannequin to collect up to four “echoes”, shadowy versions of the mannequin, and return to its starting point.

To understand how the game works, you’ll have to first understand the five “laws” of echochrome. The first law is “perspective traveling”; if you move two separate blocks so that they appear to be touching, your mannequin will be able to travel across both of them as if they really were connected. The second law is “perspective landing”; if your mannequin falls through al hole, it will land on whatever appears to be directly below it. Similar to landing, another law is “perspective jumping”, which dictates that if you jump, you will land on whatever appears to be above you.

Thanks to perspective falling, this is possible.

Thanks to perspective falling, the mannequin will land on the very platform he just fell off of.

The final two laws are “perspective existence” and “perspective absence”. These two laws basically state that if you can’t see it, it’s not there. Thus, when a pillar obscures your ability to see a hole, the game will act as if the hole is not there. The same goes for jump pads and gaps between blocks.

When you first start up the game, a quick tutorial of each of the basic laws will acclimate you to everything you need to know rather quickly. The controls are simple enough: the left analog stick rotates the camera, X speeds up the mannequin’s walking pace, triangle pauses the mannequin, R1 speeds up the rotation of the camera, and pressing square snaps the camera into position, easily covering up holes or joining platforms. Pressing L1 will allow you to control the camera with the SIXAXIS’ motion controls, this actually works great, and the only real issue is that the camera resets to a base position every time L1 is pressed.

The standard campaign mode, “Atelier”, offers 56 premade levels (the PS3 levels are different than the PSP levels) ranging from very simple to very complex. These levels can be completed individually or as an entire courses consisting of eight consecutive levels. Each set of eight levels is harder than the last, and each individual level must be completed in ten minutes or less. The only real quantification of skill in echochrome is level completion time, which is recorded after beating any level, and compared to your level best.

Levels can get quite complicated.

Levels can get quite complicated.

“Canvas” mode allows you to build your own levels piece-by-piece. You are given all the basic building blocks used in all of the premade levels, and once you’ve personally proven that it can be completed, you can share it with anybody. Once you’re ready to share your mind-numbing madness, you can upload them online or send them to friends online (on the PS3). On the PSP version, you can only share levels directly to other players through ad-hoc mode

The other play mode is “Freeform”, in which eight levels are randomly selected and played consecutively. If you find these levels too difficult, you can skip them at any time, and change the difficulty level at the loading screen. If you’re connected to the internet on the PS3 version, you can automatically download the latest, best levels uploaded by other players and chosen by the developers. In the latest update of the PS3 version of the game, over 1000 levels were made available and trophy support wad added.

Perhaps one of echochrome’s most shining points is its beautiful orchestral score composed by Hideki Sakamoto. The neo-classical music, performed by a string quartet, is at times both haunting and soothing. When combined with the methodical tapping of the mannequin’s feet and the supremely minimalistic presentation, you may experience an almost trancelike complacency as you gracefully wander from level to level. Indeed, it was this presentation that caused my own roommate, in an alternate state of mind, to comment “…holy shit…” several times during gameplay.

Closing Comments:

With an amazing soundtrack, beautifully simple artistic direction, and completely original gameplay, echochrome is a unique puzzle experience you won’t soon be forgetting. Few games make you think as much as echochrome does, and even seasoned players will need to push their minds to the limits with new challenges. Levels are short and sweet, and present a perfect pick-up-and-play experience for PS3 and PSP players alike. Admittedly, the concept may be a bit too much for some to handle, but with so much to offer and limitless replay value for $9.99, echochrome is something no puzzle-lover should pass up.

The Rundown:

Platforms: PS3 (via PSN), PSP (via PSN in US/EU, via UMD in EU/JP)
Developer: Game Yaruoze
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle / Action
Offline Multiplayer: None
Online Multiplayer: Level Sharing Only
ESRB Rating: E
Official Website: Publisher / Console

Presentation: 8.5

It is rare for a game with a completely new concept to be presented as well as echochrome is. Everything is simple and artistic and presented with great attention to detail and polish.

Graphics: 9

The simplistic nature of echochrome is sure to turn heads. The revolutionary engine twists perceptions of what is real by focusing only on what can be seen, and nothing else.

Sound: 9.5

The music is mysterious and neo-classical. The tapping of the mannequin’s feet is hypnotic. Everything feels right.

Gameplay: 8

Manipulating reality is a fun, intriguing experience that every gamer should try at least once.

Lasting Appeal: 8

The level builder and online database of levels is sure to keep things interesting and challenging. Still, there’s only so much you can do with this game.

OVERALL: 8.5 / B+

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