Written by Jon Morris Saturday, 14 April 2012 05:00
Coloropus, an online game available for $9.99, is a new adventure puzzle game from developer Pigsels Media. It has a very unique style of presentation and gameplay, yet it stays true to itself throughout. Lush visuals and immersive music help set the stage for a fun and challenging trip through undersea environs in search of your imprisoned lover.
You play as a lovestruck mini-octopus whose girlfriend has been cruelly snatched by a human and then discarded back into the ocean in a corked bottle. Not only does the human cast your true love into a glass prison beneath the sea, he or she also litters! This rather jarring visual sets the stage for a game in which treatment of the environment is both a mechanic and a source of ambience. From the get-go you are being judged on how you treat certain facets of the underwater ecosystem. The more vegetation you destroy or innocent fish you dispatch, the more "devilish" your character becomes; conversely, the gentler you behave, the more "angelic" your character is. Think of it as a karma system wherein your choices determine how you will be treated when your number is called. This system allows death to be an interesting part of the game instead of just an event. When you are eaten, shot by an ink cannon or smashed to death, your soul is sent to either a heavenly (read: easier) or hellish (read: harder) holding area that you must then solve to reunite with your body and continue the game. Depending on the site of your demise, your resurrection will occur at different locations throughout the world. The hellish puzzles are more challenging, yet they also serve to teach the player certain techniques that can be helpful as you progress through the harder levels.
In general, the game consists of swimming around in submerged environments, solving puzzles of both the color-based and mechanical sorts, and defeating or avoiding foes. You are free to roam about, and along the way you will witness little things that allow you to form a sense of what challenges lie ahead. In addition to the ability to leap out of the water in surface maps, you possess three main powers: swimming, grabbing and pulling objects in order to manipulate them to your benefit, and shooting the proper color of ink at foes and obstacles. Your basic powers are upgraded through a simple unlock system based on finding and smashing open crystal containers of three types.
The game has no text or speech whatsoever, so players will tend to make up their own names for game components. For purposes of this review, "dots" refers to the little color seeds that determine the effectiveness of most of the "weaponry" in the game for both you and your foes. Your character is a color-sensitive octopus that takes on the hue of whatever dots he ingests. Your ink color must match the foe or object you are trying to shoot, or in some cases bypass, in order to be effective. Carrying one dot of any color will make you that color, which allows you to shoot the corresponding ink, move past an electrifying crystal "turret" of that color, or destroy certain environmental obstacles of that same shade. To achieve any but the primary colors, you must acquire and mix color dots of the component colors, which are stored in two receptacles at the bottom of your screen. It is imperative to pay attention to your own color as well as the colors of the surrounding flora and fauna.
Once you move past the first few puzzles, the need to mix colors and plan ahead becomes increasingly important. Because you can only carry two component colors at any given time, management of your color inventory is just as important as watching your health and "ammunition." Thankfully, no matter what color you are at a given time, your supply of ink can be replenished by consuming any of the various types of fruit that are scattered about the world. It may be difficult to get to the fruit at times, but at least the developers were kind enough to make the ammo source independent of the color system. Color dots can be dropped and if done carefully enough, re-acquired, provided you scoop them back up before they expire. Other techniques are possible with the dots, but further discussion would indirectly spoil certain puzzles. Various environmental factors further determine the choices available to the player, and the developers did a very nice job of integrating NPCs as both friend and foe. The other forms of aquatic life run the gamut from background scenery to critical elements of each map, and are typically presented in appropriate fashion without destroying the carefully crafted ambience of the game.
Because there are no text or speech elements in the game, the player must often divine the available options from a series of in-game tips delivered in thought bubbles which give some clue as to what you should be doing and how you might do it. The hints strike a delicate balance between preview and mystery, as they generally depict techniques or plot elements without giving away the whole game. It is possible to swim around and experiment to some degree, but it quickly becomes apparent that without the hint system the game could go from fun to frustrating. The actual mechanics of moving about are fairly simple, but later levels require combinations of techniques that can be difficult to master, especially when one must manage color puzzles and keep track of where to acquire certain dots. Certain physics puzzles also require a moderate amount of physical skill to accomplish, and nearly all of the game's challenges require some patience to master. All actions are performed with the mouse alone, which in addition to keeping with the simple interface of the game, provides the additional bonus of allowing you to smash your desk when you can't solve a puzzle. There will be moments when it seems you are caught in an endless loop of thankless errands, fretting about in search of color dots or certain objects to defeat multi-stage traps and unlock new areas. However, in fairness to the developers, this is a fairly long and intricately crafted adventure, so it would be inaccurate to say that the puzzles are unjustly difficult. The back and forth nature of certain tasks is a bit of a time-eater, but once you get into the game the desire to continue grows along with the complexity of the puzzles. Players who are easily frustrated by a mystery may find it difficult to continue past the midway point of the content, and colorblind players will be in a particulary difficult bind, but most fans of puzzle adventures will find the game to be a refreshing take on the genre with memorable visuals and sounds to help keep players immersed. Completion of each puzzle definitely feels rewarding, and is handled nicely from an audiovisual standpoint.
Pigsels Media has concocted a unique game that satisfies more than it disappoints. Fans of puzzle games will not be disappointed in the increasing complexity of the levels, and the story, although essentially the classic "prince rescues princess from captivity" tale, is delivered in enough of a tongue-in-cheek manner that even a cynical FPS fan will have some good chuckles throughout. As mentioned above, credit is due to the designers for their obvious dedication to making the game look and sound very unique and pleasing. Atmospherics are superior to most other games of this type, if not all. That certainly matters when one is logging in again to take another crack at a particularly difficult puzzle. The music evokes the proper emotions of fear, success, redemption, mystery and progress. The visuals are simultaneously simple and nuanced, with careful attention paid to making the player feel like part of an engrossing world full of friends, foes, and everything in between. The above-mentioned environmental treatment mechanic does a good job of combining a gameplay element with a message that is easily received and not too heavy-handed. The fact that some manipulable items are not immediately apparent is a credit to to the immersion aspect of the game but can sometimes lead to facepalms when a lot of time is spent on a particular puzzle. Although it is possible to get stuck in a rut at times, overall the game delivers an entertaining mix of ambience, adventure, brain-teasing and even some action that is well worth the price. Coloropus is a welcome change of pace from the grind of cookie-cutter games currently on the market, and bodes well for the future of the genre.
Coloropus is also available on Direct2Drive and GamersGate.
Developer: Pigsels Media