|Developed by:||Fairplay Labs|
We first encountered Color (Grr) Guardians back in our December 2016 PS Plus round up, noting it as a neat looking, kid friendly experience but thinking little more of it. Having spent a bit more time with it, as well as letting the tribe loose, it seems apt to revisit.
Released across PS4, Steam and XBox 360, Color Guardians is a frantic side scrolling action game. The concept is gloriously simple yet devillishly detailed. With all the colour drained out of the world (don’t ask), it is your job to restore it to glory. Taking control of one of three cute critters, you progress left to right in perpetual motion, jumping over gaps, bouncing off toadstools, hopping between mine carts and floating through the air via parasols. But this isn’t your typical platformer. There is no jump button per se, no attacks to perform. Instead, three colours – red, blue and yellow – are mapped to three of the joypad buttons. As you move through each level, coloured obstacles appear and you must press the right colour on the pad in order to execute the required move. Sounds easy, right?
And so it proves to start with, the tutorial easing you in gently, introducing you to the basic concepts of movement and colour selection with the aid of some on-screen prompts. Indeed my kids enjoyed this level, my 3 year old showing up his 6 year old sisters by almost maxing out the score.
The difficulty curve is finely judged, at least for slightly older gamers, as new mechanics are introduced. Whilst you are locked in a left-to-right direction, you have free movement between three lanes. In early levels you can stick with one for sure, your only punishment being a drop in score with points awarded for successfully timing your colour match button press with the on-screen action. But you soon come a cropper as a boulder blocks the path, your brightly coloured avatar splatting into it in a pile of luminous goo. Back to the last checkpoint you go.
It soon becomes apparent that successful navigation of the level requires vertical movement between the lines, picking your moment to switch lanes to keep the run going, your character automatically jumping when necessary to avoid obstacles so long as you hit your colour marker. You start to build a rhythm, switching things up, hitting your prompts at just the right moment to reach that high score. But then WHAM! You press the right button and launch into the air, soaring over a stretch of water only to realise too late the the next landing is in the lane above and you sink to a soggy demise. Back to the last checkpoint you go.
And so it goes. As the levels progress and the complexity of layout increases, you count yourself lucky to reach the end of the level, let alone hit a maximum score. Changes of colour come thick and fast, lane swaps become Superman-reflex quick, parasols float you into danger unless you time your release just so whilst end of stage bosses give you a new challenge to overcome, taking the colour-based format and presenting it in a different way.
Make no mistake, this is hard. There is an element of the Rick Dangerous to it, my go-to game for describing that gaming device that necessitates memorising a level through failure and repetition. And whilst that is true to an extent, this is far more forgiving, not least due to its checkpoint system. Undoubtedly some sections require repeat play to master – the mine cart sections in particular are savage as your button presses see you leap from cart to cart, track to track – whilst the attainment of a perfect score often feels like a pipe dream. And this may be enough to put off many, the frustration outweighing any enjoyment to be had. But for those with a stronger constitution there is a supreme challenge waiting to be conquered. Color Guardians is at its finest when, after the 20th attempt at the same stretch of level, it all comes together as you leap from toadstool to outcrop, mine cart to mine cart, parasol to ledge, bridge to toadstool to parasol to parasol to ledge to platform, all in a rapid fire hue of red-red-yellow-blue-red-blue-blue-yellow-yellow, before hitting the rewind pad that launches you back into the level, this time battling through a previously unreachable section for even more points. When it all comes together, it is exhilarating.
Perhaps inevitably for a game all about colour, graphically it is delightful throughout. Your critter leaves a trail of whatever colour is selected behind him as he runs, his little feet somehow keeping up with his body despite the apparent absence of legs. Seeing the world illuminate as you progress offers a nice visual appeal, the pace of scrolling well judged and colour orbs clearly drawn so that you always feel you have enough time to make the right selection, even if you don’t always execute as planned. In fact the bright, child friendly exterior somewhat betrays what is a tough old beast underneath. That being said, whilst as adults we are conditioned to chase that high score, kids can simply enjoy playing in the world, hitting enough key colours to progress past early obstacles even whilst you silently curse their names for missing that point generating parasol.
Cute, colourful and hard as nails. It takes a little while to understand the ebb and flow but once you appreciate the rhythm of the game, a splendidly enjoyable challenge awaits.