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Impressions: Colour Bind

The Dyes That Bind

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I am sure I’m not very good at Colour Bind. But Colour Bind is definitely very good at me. This puzzle platformer is as tough to describe as it is to play, challenging you to drive a two-wheeled, invertible vehicle, capable of increasing its size in order to bounce itself around. But driving that flippable car-thing in a world where the direction in which gravity pulls an object is defined by its colour. Got that? No, nor me, and I’ve been playing it.

Look, the easiest thing in this case is to watch it:

Gravitational rules are shown for each colour, differing for each puzzle. So if something is red, maybe it gets pulled to the right, green goes down, and blue goes up. With those rules in place, you start trying to fathom how your actions could allow you to negotiate a route to the level’s goal. Except, well, then it adds the lasers that change an object’s colour if they touch it, including your own car, thus changing how gravity drags them and you. Which in turn leads to headaches.

But good headaches! It keeps asking you to think in lots of ways at the same time. Say you’re currently stuck to the ceiling – you’ve got to remember that your controls will be reversed. But you’re also trying to think about jumping a gap, reading a coloured laser, and not knocking an object in the wrong direction. Fortunately the game gleefully marks dead ends with a coloured F – if you’re the colour of the F when you reach it, you’ve failed. And the instant restart, also F, lets you take another try. And another. And another.

But of course it gets more involved than that. Gravity can be exerted at different strengths, meaning being some colours may make bouncing very tricky, others let you fly an awful lot higher. Oh, and then there are the switches which change which direction a colours gravity points in. And then you realise that bouncing is way more involved than you’d thought. And then and then and then. And then you find out being touched by a green and red laser at the same time turns you yellow, where new gravitational rules apply.

You know that feeling where you can see what you’re supposed to do, but you can’t quite do it because you’ve not quite mastered the how, and your toes start to scrunch up? That’s the position I adopt for most of Colour Bind. And it’s still a good thing. Fortunately it always keeps three levels open ahead of you at any time, should one frustrate you too much. But oh but, oh but oh, do I feel brilliant when I finish a tricky level. And then you see this and you just stare:

But you know what? It wasn’t actually that difficult to complete in the end. And perhaps that’s Colour Bind’s secret – it constantly feels daunting, I’m constantly certain I’m doing badly, but I’m progressing through the levels despite it. And while I definitely feel a sense of frustration, it’s really not with the game. It’s actually extremely fair, and there have been some smart design decisions to ensure that the direction of each colours gravity is nice and clearly represented as you’re playing.

It’s a deeply smart game. Certainly not the most attractive, though. The minimalist design and crude flash-shapes feel a bit throwaway, which is a shame since while a certain starkness clearly helps with clarity, it’s hard not to wish this was just a lot more pleasing on the eye as you’re bewildered by it. It looks a bit like one of those games scientists to help with a project, where practicality is all, and presentation is not important.

For seven quid on Steam it’s definitely worth a look should you find most puzzle platformers to be a touch too easy. But don’t be put off by my protestations of how hard it is, either – I complain, but I keep on progressing.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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