"And I was so looking forward to this. Coloris is renowned as one of the better Bit Generations titles, a color-matching game where you live or die by the refinement of your visual palette. Gameplay videos looked almost avant-garde in their busy little squares of light shifting and pulsing and phasing out of view; a Japanese musician had even made a music video from the material. Game as art! Art as game! This is what I want! "
And I was so looking forward to this. Coloris is renowned as one of the better Bit Generations titles, a color-matching game where you live or die by the refinement of your visual palette. Gameplay videos looked almost avant-garde in their busy little squares of light shifting and pulsing and phasing out of view; a Japanese musician had even made a music video from the material. Game as art! Art as game! This is what I want!
Well, it's very purty, but it's not very fun.
You've got a grid of multicolored blocks, in which you must match up three blocks or more of the same color until you fill up a meter at the top of the screen. The gimmick: at the start of each round, you're shown the upcoming grid's palette, which will range from four to twelve gradated colors. Your cursor will alternate between the spectrum's two extremes; clicking on a block with your cursor will move the block one shade in the corresponding direction up or down the spectrum. For example, consider a red-orange-yellow-green-blue palette; use a red cursor on a green square, and the square'll move up the palette one notch to yellow. Use a blue cursor on a red square, and it'll move one notch down to orange.
Wait, there's more. In larger palettes, your cursor will alternate instead between the three primary colors, and each click will bring a tile closer to the cursor's hue. But: if you click on a tile with a cursor of its complement - a red cursor on a green tile, blue on orange, yellow on purple - that tile will black out. You'll need to make not one but two matches right next to the tile to put it back in play. Did I mention that you can't make any progress on your meter or finish a level if you have even *one* black tile? Or that pokey progress will cause tiles to black out en masse?
Are you getting all this? It's not much easier to suss out in the heat of block-swapping. The game's system isn't incomprehensible or random, as some have charged, but it never becomes smooth and second-nature, like basic gameplay in puzzle titles needs to be. (This holds true even when you get "good" at the game and can fumble into completing the later rounds.) Determining what constitutes a complementary color in the later stages is particularly sticky; is that tile violet-blue or blue-violet?
How the game deals with blacking out tiles is also a stumbling block. I can see having your bar advance much more slowly once they show up, or the blocks disappearing after one nearby match. A complete halt, though, and 2 matches necessary? I think I hear my mother calling. It's so hard to clear blackouts at all that it's easier just to restart the level once three or four show up. Blackouts also have a tendency to snowball (a smaller play area means fewer possible matches, which means less progress, etc.) and are plopped on screen at a rate often quite disproportionate to your progress, becoming downright draconian at the higher levels. Having half the screen suddenly black out for no reason is about as much of a screw-you as a game can give.
The art is the best thing Coloris has going for it. Play through, and the tiles will start to sprout fine decorations - dragonflies buzz across summer-colored squares; cherry petals flutter through a grid framed by a sakura tree in pastels; little moons eclipse themselves in a meadow at midnight. (The decorations also serve as an intentional distraction; it's harder to pick out colors when the tiles are winking in and out.) The shading and motion in one stage even create an optical illusion of the tileset as one whirring blur. Even in its plainest incarnation, the grid retains a certain art - a wall of monitors all turned to a single hue, flickering in and out. It's a lovely living mosaic.
These tableaux, however, appear only on Clear Mode (the one with the bar), and though Coloris's gameplay is awkward, you will find Clear Mode's limited number of stages and predominantly four- and six-color palettes overly easy soon enough. You'll then require the challenge of Score Mode (where you simply clear as many squares as you can), which offers only the plain-Jane tiles and none of the more inventive graphics. It's like the player is punished for getting better; how senseless, when including the more dazzling tilesets would have been so simple.
A small drawback I must mention: the sound effects for this game can be dang annoying. You know the woobity-woobity-woobity sound a scorpion in Centipede makes when it crosses the screen? Imagine hearing that all the time whenever a special block is on the grid. I used to go for the specials first just to shut them up, but there's always another one right behind, so I now just play the game on mute. The pause sound is unduly loud and could double as a mating call for whooping cranes.
I very much like the basic idea of Coloris, but the particulars of the mechanics frustrate me. I can remember them all academically, but not put them reliably into practice at the higher levels, and they ultimately produce a game that, once you climb up the learning curve, is either easy as heck or unenjoyably frustrating. Furthermore, restricting the showpiece graphics to the training stages forces a false choice between art and gameplay when each element should instead be enhancing the other. Other Bit Generations titles, like Dialhex and Orbital, better showcase the series' stylish, pick-up-and-play philosophy. Coloris's art is perhaps better left to more passive appreciation - such as that venerable gallery called YouTube.
Community review by Synonymous (May 31, 2008)
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