Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Indie Games Review -- Kaleidoscope
I'm a sucker for a pretty or stylish game. It's really a wonder how I don't get burned more often by fancy looks or an original idea that doesn't carry the rest of the game when unsupported or poorly executed. Downloadable games on the 360 have helped this by giving us demos and, though a lot of times demos lead to a game being bought, these demos prevent me from buying some horrid or broken games that have that skin deep beauty. That said, when I saw Kaleidoscope I had to download the demo immediately with hopes that this game, like so many pretty games before, wouldn't lure me in with a night of promises but leave me with a morning of regrets and a tear-filled shower afterward.
Kaleidoscope is a platformer from Morsel and probably the most non-violent one I've ever played. You play the role of Tint, a little guy that looks like a soot sprite with legs and an antenna, and are out to restore color to your darkened little world. You do this by finding pigments scattered throughout the level while avoiding obstacles. Your "enemies" are little furry things called Murmurs (I believe) and when jumped upon they turn brown and harmless, y'know, instead of dead. The only other things that can kill you are plants that spit projectiles at you and, of course, the ever-necessary spikes. Aiding you in this quest are three abilities: the ability to dash, the ability to glide, and the ability to create a projectile-absorbing shield. Each of these requires you to pick up blue, yellow, and red pigments to refill their respective meters, and the latter two are quite necessary in some of the stages while the first seems more of a way to get through levels quicker. Find a large pigment (brown, green, or purple) and that's the end of the stage. Later stages have some variations of this but for the most part that's what you'll be doing from start to finish.
While you're searching for pigments you'll notice the beautiful aesthetics of Kaleidoscope changing. The more you collect, the more color that's restored to Tint's bright and adorable world. It really makes you feel like you're affecting the game you're playing, even if it's a completely cosmetic aspect. The first time I rolled across a bunch of spikes on an apple that wasn't red I felt a longing. I wanted it to be red, dammit. Tint himself (I'm pretty sure it's a dude) is animated with enough character to give him life and personality even without any dialogue. Even the loading screens are colorful and share a little tidbit about Tint's life, world and family. The music is no different, adding that much more personality to the game. (That can be found out for free, though, since it's an Overclocked Remix production.)
All that glitters isn't gold, however. At least not completely. Though Kaleidoscope is a great platformer it has a few problems, some of which revolve around glitches and the others with design. (In defense of Morsel, though, they patched the game and it feels leaps and bounds better than before.) The taller of the two Murmur designs have an incredibly small hitbox to jump on, resulting in a lot of frustrating deaths. It's seriously like you're jumping on a huge fur coat only to find that you needed to land square on the top of a coat rack beneath it and something didn't feel used to even by the time I finished the game. There was also a level I had to restart because I couldn't reach an apple too far moved along a set of spikes and one I should've restarted for roughly the same reason but was too stubborn to quit. I've landed in spikes and jumped out without dying, run into a Murmur and respawned with the Murmur friendly-fied, even found a small piece of open air that I could walk on. Walking on moving platforms, depending on the movement, can also cause you to be considered "airborne" and, because of this, you'll only get one jump (your double/air jump), ending with you dying or having to climb a lot more than you intended. Luckily, when you die you only go back a short amount, forcing you to replay only the last five to ten seconds.
Even after saying all this, what Morsel got right it did so with (ahem) flying colors. The remainder of the level design is actually quite good. As said before, finding one of the odd-colored pigments ends a level, and this forces memorization and exploration so you can go back and find the others. Most levels really aren't horribly huge but they twist and turn and rise and fall so much they feel much larger and fuller than they are. It's almost a shame that the last few stages force an almost straight line of exploration. It fits well with finding out why Tint's world is dying, however, so I understand the decision. An honorable mention goes to the fact that Tint's abilities slowly regenerate even without pigments. So, when a stage requires you to use one of Tint's abilities (such as floating), you aren't up a creek without a paddle.
In the end, the game will last the seasoned platform jumping gamer a little less than two hours. This includes the in-game awards, most of which you'll get while playing normally and only one or two that require specific effort. I was left wanting to explore more of Tint's colorful world but not in a way that I felt cheated out of what I bought. Even with some bad design decisions and a few glitches, Kaleidoscope is definitely worth a look from anyone who enjoys a solid platformer or just something pretty to admire and, at three bucks, is worth the little time and money you'd put into it. Now you'll have to excuse me while I go dream of Tint plushies and Kaleidoscope art books.
Kaleidoscope is available on XBox Live for 240 MS Points. Played through the entire game, got the coveted "I Heart Kaleidoscope" award (which I do), and am hoping Morsel makes a Legend of Zelda clone using the world and color-returning concepts from this game. Also, I'd buy a Kaleidoscope coloring book and a box of those really thick crayons. Publicly. Without shame or regret. And hang each picture on my fridge. And beg my girlfriend for gold stars or longer recess time...this game makes me such a little girl.