After its debut on iOS, ChromaGun makes its way to the Switch. Can it escape the shadow of its influences or has it painted itself into a corner?
With PUBG Corp. of a mind to call up a lawyer every time another studio announces a new battle royale game, you have to wonder if Valve feel similar pangs of panic whenever another Portal
clone homage comes to market?
The seminal 2007 puzzle platformer – and its sequel – have proved highly influential, but few of the games following in their stead have ever threatened to take the crown, or warrant a strongly-worded letter from Valve’s legal dept.
It’s not that these games are all bad. Take your pick from Q.U.B.E., The Turing Test, The Talos Principle, Quantum Conundrum, or Antichamber, and you’ll find much to enjoy. Each offers its own spin on the lab-rat genre, but each also suffers by being trapped in the gaze of its inspiration.
Another game to add to that list is ChromaGun, a 3D puzzler from Pixel Manics that debuted on iOS in 2015, came to PC and console last year, and arrived on Nintendo Switch last month.
Like many games of its ilk, ChromaGun drops you into a complex of nondescript white-walled rooms. The task at hand is to progress through a collection of puzzle chambers, while an omnipresent narrator occasionally chips in with pithy one-liners and helpful advice. Is this sounding familiar?
The conceit this time is a not a Portal gun, but the titular ChromaGun, a paintball weapon capable of spurting out blobs of red, yellow and blue ink. Think Splatoon, but without the mess, and you’ll get the gist of how it works.
Progression involves solving colour-based logic puzzles by shooting – and mixing – coloured projectiles onto the walls of each test chamber. The painted panels then act as magnets to attract similarly hued floating drones. Manoeuvring the drones into the correct position activates switches and opens doors, allowing you to make good your escape.
Complexity is gradually added by the introduction of increasingly elaborate room layouts, and a more aggressive breed of drone that will attack on sight. At other times, careless decorating will literally paint you into a corner and force a level restart.
The puzzles themselves are fun and well designed. Each one is a logic chain of colour matching and consequence that requires careful planning, as there appears to be little room for improvisation. There are some occasional spikes in difficulty, but by and large ChromaGun does a good job of educating the player in the complexities of its systems before ramping up to its head-scratching chapter conclusions.
So why the 3 star score? (We know you’ve looked).
It’s the execution. It’s impossible to escape the feeling that Pixel Maniacs’ initial design brief was little more than to give iOS its own Portal. The puzzles just about manage to avoid harsh comparison, but everything else – the tone, visuals and sound design – feels derivative of Valve’s classic. The blank white walls that serve as the backdrop for the majority of the game are clean and simple – and key to the core palette-changing mechanic – but they also feel cheap. And the occasional items of set dressing, which notionally indicate a wider world and story, feel cobbled together from a cheap Unity asset pack.
Control is also an issue. Movement is fine, but aiming is vague. If you’re a committed Splatoon 2 player, the lack of motion controls to assist in fine tuning your shots is a shock to system. It’s maybe not fair to knock ChromaGun alone for this omission, but it’s something that all Switch games requiring precise first-person aiming really should adopt, just as Bethesda has with its recent Doom update.
Portal’s sense of impetus is also entirely absent. Despite some occasional moments that require quick thinking and fast reflexes – which, due to the sketchy controls, are thankfully few and far between – ChromaGun is as sedate as video games come.
The result is a game that never quite comes together. ChromaGun’s individual puzzles are good, sometimes even excellent, and the best of them offer that magical ding of video game satisfaction as the solution falls into place. However, the game’s bland aesthetics and lack of polish means that ChromaGun fails to make a mark in a crowded genre.