Quick! An evil force has stolen your girlfriend! You must go on a quest to save her! There will be enemies to defeat, puzzles to solve, and perilous environments to navigate; you must use your unique abilities to overcome these trials and save the day. Hurry and God speed hero!
This could be the summary of thousands of videogames, but with one word it becomes unique: Octopus. The hero of this game is a charmingly cute cephalopod with the ability to change chromatically.
The entire game uses an information delivery genre similar to Amanita Design’s Machinarium, where the story is told entirely through pictures instead of words. All dialogue, quests, and hints are delivered through animated thought bubbles. This means the game needs no localization, but also that you have no way of knowing what anything is actually called, so you get to make that up as you go along.
Micheal Bay wants them to be aliens? Super lame.
The art design of this game pleases the eyes while the music pleases the ears. Everything has a hand drawn look that really pops when you experience the lighting and shadows. The character and plant animations are fluid (ha ha haa! water humor) and the world is awash with color. The music has a relaxing flow to it that shifts to an urgent tempo when danger is near, which matches superbly with the action puzzle gameplay.
Story-wise, it's as simple as it comes. Our hero’s girlfriend, a pink doe-eyed bow wearing octogal, is suddenly scooped up in a bottle by the most evil thing ever. A human! Dun-duh-dunnnn. Your quest is to free her from this bottle in the most colorful way possible.
That’s not a clever turn of phrase. Your progress through the game is all dependent upon mastering the color mechanic. The land under the sea is littered with “color seeds” that if consumed by our heropus changes his color from his default white. See, there are various barriers you get past and only an ink attack of the same color will allow you to break through them. The same goes for various enemies; you have to fight green with green, red with red, etc. The system gets even deeper in that you can hold two colors at once. Need orange? Get a red and yellow seed. This goes beyond elementary color mixing, including the need to create colors like teal, vermillion, and mauve. Stuff that is no problem for an art major such as myself - I have to mix colors daily - but I could see the lack of an in-game color mixing recipe guide being an annoyance for most.
Our heropus is (as mentioned) an octopus, and as such moves like one. Clicking and holding down the left mouse button will have the little guy swim towards the cursor. You will click on items to have him pick up and carry them while right clicking aims your inky projectiles. The game functions well and the controls feel like they work, but the game stumbles in its design choices.
First, our character moves very slowly. While he can only move forward, just like a real octopus, he is nowhere near as speedy as these things are in real life. If you want him to move in a way he isn’t currently facing, he'll first slowly rotate in place before shooting forward. This can make avoiding enemy attacks nearly impossible. You can locate a few magic pearls which will level up your character’s health, speed, and attack power; however, he still felt sluggish throughout the majority of the game. This is only a problem in that the larger enemy fish you come across move faster and turn sharper than you can and you will get nibbled often. Take enough damage and you'll swap your eyes for a pair of ‘Xs’ and die.
Death for our heropus is not a simple reset to the last save. Upon your death the game will look at your morality level and send you to H-E-Double hockey sticks or Cloudland Angelville. Oh, you didn’t know this game had a morality meter? Well, neither did I until my first death. It seems damaging plant life (required to get through some areas) will make you a touch more ‘renegade’, while helping the sea citizens and planting new plants makes you slightly more ‘paragon’. How halo or horny you are upon your death will determine whether you have to solve the heaven or hell puzzle, respectively. Solving it reunites your spirit with your body and you get resurrected. You won't respawn exactly where you died, but at certain respawn points near where you did. This is a clever way to handle the unlimited lives that modern videogame characters while still making death a thing you try to avoid.
Were you a good mollusk or a bad mollusk?
Really, the main issue is the joint problem of the slower-than-is-pleasing character movement and the flaw in the coloring mixing mechanic. As it is implemented, there will be a few plants and a few fish that have the ‘color seeds’ you need to ingest to change your color. This would be fine, except you can only hold two colors at a time. You have to drop a color in order to pick up a different color, which leads to frustrating situations.
For example, at one point in the game you'll need to be pink to get past a monstrous eel (who is pink-blind apparently), but right before that you come face to face with a red piranha, which is much faster than you and makes a beeline directly for you. Unfortunately, his area has no color seeds, so you can’t change to the color needed to defeat him. As I said before, even if you do show up with the right color to take care of him he'll simply respawn within a few seconds, whether you leave the screen or not. So if you're red, you can deal with the piranha, but will get chopped up by the eel; if you're pink you'll get nibbled on by the piranha but you’ll be able to sneak by the eel.
Why am I focusing on this little area? Because it's the area you have to go through every time you revisit where your girlopus is. Worse, to save her you have to be five different colors at five different times. So you have to go out in the world, collect the color you need, and travel aaaaallll the way back to where she is without dying or losing the proper pigment. This means at some point you will have to be yellow, and get both nibbled by the piranha and the eel coming and going from her location. If you're lucky (and at full health) you might make it through, but not without seeing your hero bleed. This character is seriously cuter than a kitten riding a puppy and seeing him cry out in pain just feels wrong. This all would have been fixed with a color wheel that allowed you to swap between any of the colors you had collected, but as it stands the game just tries your patience.
Fus Do Rah-ktopus!
This is where I feel a bit like a bully picking on the game. There is so much potential with the concept: controlling an octopus underwater is a unique experience; mixing colors to solve puzzles is a clever hook; the art style is vibrant and clean; the music matches the setting perfectly; the world is well designed and fun to explore; and the puzzles are well integrated into the environment and are the perfect balance of brain bending yet solvable. It's a shame that where Coloropus stumbles is the part where you actually play the game. It took me around eight hours to get through this $10 game, but I feel like much of the game’s length was due to the slow moving character and backtracking for the proper colors.
This is another of those games that's just a few flaws away from greatness. In the world of videogames, gameplay is still the supreme overlord and Coloropus is found a little wanting. All said, though, I hope people go out and try the free demo and that enough of them give the full game a whirl, because I really would like to see a sequel. Give me the same kind of game with a more agile character, an in-game color mixing recipe guide, and a selectable color wheel and I’ll buy it day one. I applaud the developer, Pigsels, for the care they've put into their first game, they just need to smooth out some of the gameplay issues and they’ll be producing gems.
This review is based on a PC copy of Coloropus, provided by the developer.
When this review was first published I made some incorrect assumptions about the heaven/hell levels and the number of respawn locations. The review has been edited to correct this and the score has been adjusted slightly as a result)