Every now and then, an indie game comes along that takes a well-loved, well-worn genre and adds a dash of creative thinking. That’s precisely what Color Symphony 2, from one-man studio Remimory, manages to do. The result is a satisfyingly tricky game that’s part platformer, part rhythm game.
Platform games are one of the best represented (read: oversaturated) genres on the market – and that’s especially true with indie titles. Color Symphony 2 attempts to stand out from a crowded market in a distinctly visual way: colour as a game mechanic. Not too much colour, mind; this isn’t Ocarina of Time. But how the game uses its tri-chromatic scheme makes for a punishingly addictive title.
Players are challenged to get from one side of the map to the other, avoiding environmental obstacles, such as rotating blades, to reach the portal that takes them to the next level. So far, so platformer.
But by hitting X, Y or B, you change the background to either blue, yellow or red. The result is that, with every switch, certain obstacles will disappear – like placing a see-through blue sheet over a blue stickman, the stickman apparently vanishes.
This adds a major complication to the game; not because you’re removing objects from the world to reach your goal, but because by removing that blade that stands in your way, you run the risk of removing the very platform you’re standing on too. Or replacing it with something else that will destroy you with a single blow. Timing, then, is everything, to the point that you’ll be switching colours mid-jump, performing rapid-fire changes as you’re forced to speed-run across the map, or else take a hit.
And that’s the second clever addition to the game – bringing on the rhythm.
Players will find themselves building up a flow, memorising the order of button presses, in a way that creates a game that plays like Guitar Hero without the music. And just how sheer challenge drives Guitar Hero, so too with Color Symphony 2. That point is driven home after the completion of every level, as you’re presented with both your completion time, the average time, global leaderboards and a number of stars. It becomes all too easy to hit replay, just to shave a few seconds off your score. Oddly, however, we found that the stars you’re awarded, out of five, seem to be given without rhyme or reason. We’ve completed levels in record time and all collectibles – we earned one star; in others, we died multiple times and took far too long, only to be blessed with a perfect five out of five.
Those collectibles add an extra layer of difficulty – these floating fedoras are often placed in positions just beyond the normal path. That means not only having to replay levels, perfect for the completionist, but also looking at the maps from a fresh perspective, to figure out just how to collect the hats that, at first glance, appear totally impossible to reach.
Speaking of hats, Color Symphony 2 is missing a real trick. When you think of the very best platformers – Sonic, Mario – those games didn’t just coast by on their solid gameplay; they created memorable characters that provide a recognisable rally point. And Color Symphony 2 could’ve easily elevated itself to similar levels. As it stands, you play as a silhouette in a wide-brimmed hat and flowing trench coat. However striking that sounds, ultimately here it’s just not bold enough to capture the attention of the wider audience the game deserves.
Artistically, the game is heavily stylised. It’s dark and brooding – ironic for a game that places so much emphasis on the chromatic spectrum, but that choice works well in setting the tone. Super Mario this ain’t. Everything else appears hand-drawn, overlaid on textured backgrounds, giving the indie title a bit of grit, if it needed such a thing. There’s also been a change in direction since the original, which featured scratchy drawings that reminded us of a hurried version of Disney films from the 60s and 70s. Here, everything feels much more solid, it’s like comparing a workplace doodle to a Spirograph masterpiece.
Another missed opportunity is the story. Ordinarily, we’re happy for platformers to be platformers, Colour Symphony 2 puts its narrative right in the players face – told through text that hovers in the air, like a 2D version of Nero. Sure, the narrative is engaging, in a basic way, but it boils down to good versus evil and the MacGuffin of colour. Occasionally too, we spotted typos (e.g. ‘out’ instead of ‘our’), which kills the immersion of what’s essentially a melodramatic fairytale.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Color Symphony 2 is that it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of gaming: unfairness. It feels fair. The controls are nice and tight, and the protagonist feels weighty in that good way that elevates the sense of control. Players are also given a cue when you hit A that leaves a stroke of white hanging in the air after every jump or double-jump. That proves exceptionally helpful in judging your jumps and giving you a reference point, given that you’ll often leap, switch colours, and for a brief second there will literally be nothing on screen. Such fairness means you’ll be perfectly content to restart levels after dying, feeling as though you’re making progress even as the difficulty ramps up. If you fail – and you will fail – it is always your fault, not the game’s.
Color Symphony 2 is ambitious, in that indie sense – it knows it can only do so much, but what it does, it does incredibly well. With over 120 levels, it’s likely to keep you playing, once you’re in the rhythmic groove. It’s not genre-defining by any means, but it shows promise for the studio’s future output. The developer intended the game to show ‘the ambiguity of colour,’ but it somehow also manages to show us the ambiguity of genre.
Color Symphony 2 is available in the Xbox Store priced £7.99
A cleverly executed game that’s part platformer, part rhythm game.
Pros: Smart new angle for the platforming genre. As difficult as it is satisfying, thanks to solid controls. Plenty to play through and master here.
Cons: The story never reaches the heights it promises. Occasionally feels like the game could’ve, with enough time and effort, spun off in new gameplay directions using the same brilliant concept (the way Portal 2 did).