Well, With All the Red, it’s Technically Duochroma
HIGH Finally getting a glimpse of the lushness in the heart of darkness.
LOW Dying over and over against a boss with awful attack flagging.
WTF The puzzle that bugged out because of crane malfunction.
Walking in the footsteps of other moody puzzle-platformers, Monochroma takes players on a journey through a greyscale interpretation of prewar Germany. The player controls a young boy who goes on a grand adventure to protect his little brother from the horrifying machines and nefarious villains that inhabit the game’s deiselpunk world.
Much like Limbo, the game closest to Monochroma in execution, the majority of interaction the player has with the world involves pushing boxes and making daring leaps from one rickety platform to the next. Monochroma attempts to mix things up a little by making responsibility a key theme. Not unlike the seminal ICO and that character’s care of Yorda, the main character of this game is tasked with looking after his sibling using a mechanic closely tied to the visual style.
The player carts li’l brother around on his back most of the time, which has the effect of weighing him down and severely hindering his jumping ability. In light of this handicap, the player must constantly be on the lookout for areas where the child can be safely stowed away. The oppressive dark grey world of Monochroma proves frightening to the little one, so the main character can only unburden himself in brightly-lit areas. Finding and using these areas correctly forms the basis of a large chunk of the game’s puzzles. The developers consistently manage to find new and interesting twists on this simple concept, forcing the player to position the kid out of the way of falling machinery, or to quickly hit a few switches before he falls off a moving platform.
It’s not just the gameplay that proves solid—Monochroma’s art design manages to consistently impress over the length of the adventure. Whether it’s rendering endless fields of grain, dank sewers or retro-futuristic factories, the grey expanses generate a consistently oppressive mood. Everything is concrete and steel, with a dark sky menacing overhead. This is a world without hope or joy, and a place where innocence is sacrificed to technological progress. Without dialogue or text, Monochroma does a great job of showing players just what kind of a world they’ve wandered into, and just how high the stakes are for the character they control.
The only place where the game falters a little is in the controls. Monochroma’s main character has one of the floatiest jumps I’ve ever encountered, and it’s incredibly difficult to control. This led to many, many situations where I was unable to determine whether I was missing a jump because the controls weren’t up to snuff, or because I wasn’t supposed to be going in that direction. I’d always muddle my way through eventually, but the fact that the game’s sole boss fight relies on using this difficult-to-handle mechanic means that it ends on the worst note imaginable. After such a grueling journey, the climax should be satisfying, not filled with jumping-induced frustration.
Monochroma can proudly hold its metaphorical head high among other classy 2D puzzle-platformers. This is a game whose developers extensively studied the greats of the genre, and obviously understand what they did right. While it may not bring anything particularly new to the table, Monochroma is a beautifully executed adventure that kept me enthralled all the way from the promising opening to the slightly annoying finale.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Nowhere Games and published by Merge Games. It is currently available on XBox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains violence and blood. While there are certainly tense moments here and there, and the possibility of a few mildly gruesome deaths, I’d say Monochroma is safe for even younger teens. This is an adventure about children that’s mostly safe for them to play.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game has no important audio cues, and all information is imparted visually, so you should be fine.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: The game is in black and white.