The Colors, Duke, The Colors!
HIGH Finally solving the last puzzle after taking a long break.
LOW The ending is sudden and unsatisfying.
WTF Most universities don’t have spike traps.
While minimalist in almost all respects, developer Fiddlesticks and publisher Curve Digital have delivered an unassuming environmental puzzle game that has charm and intelligence, while also managing to explore complex issues like subjectivity and the very fabric of reality.
Hue’s narrative unfolds through a series of letters players find along their path. Through these, the main character (named Hue) learns about a university professor lost in a reality of imperceptible colors. Players have to collect the ability to see and manipulate colors across the visible spectrum in order to save her. With voiceover narration, the woman recalls her affection for another professor, Dr. Grey, and shares memories about their ongoing color research and growing love affair.
Along with these letters, the intermittent appearance of a mysterious cloaked figure provides intrigue to propel the story forward. There are several significant reveals about what’s really going on, but all of them are telegraphed early. The story works best when it’s not trying to surprise players, but instead exploring the nature of reality. Unfortunately, the conclusion doesn’t live up to the philosophical undertones it sets up — it’s almost as if the writer started with a more ambitious story and then had to hastily wrap it up when the game proved to be smaller than the tale it wanted to tell.
Aesthetically, Hue is reminiscent of games like Limbo and Runbow with its minimalist, 2D style punctuated by puzzles built around changing the background color of the screen. The sparse visuals look as though they were produced through carved wood printing blocks, and sport simple, elegant designs.
The game uses Metroidvania structure. Players explore one seamlessly interconnected world, collect additional color abilities at the end of each major area, and use these to progress past previously insurmountable obstacles. The variety of well-designed puzzles is impressive, and most involve trying to manipulate colored boxes around a small area in order to reach an initially inaccessible doorway.
For instance, one room may have a tall orange box and a short blue box. Players soon realize they need to put the blue box in front of the orange box to create a set of stairs to reach the exit, but the way is blocked. By turning the background orange (making the orange box invisible) players can then move the blue box where it needs to go, and then change the color back to make both boxes visible again. Boom! Makeshift staircase created.
The complexity of these puzzles gradually increases at a rate commensurate with players’ skill and understanding of the mechanics. Other puzzles may be structured around avoiding a cascade of colored boulders by continually changing the background color, or similarly manipulating the background color in order to make a series of platforms appear and disappear over spiked pits. What appears to be a simple premise eventually matures into a formidable challenge, particularly when players are juggling eight color-swapping possibilities.
Thankfully, Hue does not outstay its welcome. Although it asks some weighty questions and fails to answer them through its limited narrative, Hue is best enjoyed for its color-swapping puzzle mechanics and austere visual design.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Fiddlesticks and published by Curve Digital. It is currently available on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5-6 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 E for Everyone. Although Hue can be “killed” by blocks, lasers, and spikes, there is no graphic violence shown. Hue simply falls over. Players restart almost immediately.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No sound is necessary to enjoy this game.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options. For this kind of game, they’re practically mandatory.