Colour Bind is a deceptive game that’s full of surprises. At first glance, it looks like a fairly simple and easy to grasp puzzle platformer, using simplified lo-fi graphics to carry out what would be an admittedly dull and overdone concept. The first few levels quickly throw that preconception out the window by showing off the very bouncy physics engine, and it becomes a game more concentrated on maintaining control in the face of mind-bending gravity swaps. Then, developer Finn Morgan reveals his nefarious true intentions though a series of increasingly brutal levels, making Colour Bind a game about twitch reflexes, split second decisions, and zippy time trials. By the time you’ve earned your first achievement, the game is effortlessly blending these three disparate styles into one of the most challenging platformers out there. It’s occasionally a completely grating and frustrating experience, and after thirty failures in a row due to bad luck with physics and tough gravity controls, you’ll probably dispute this review or curse us for pointing you towards this unique game. But with enough persistence, dedication, and practice, the challenging gameplay of Colour Bind becomes so very rewarding in a way that few platformers are.
Colour Bind dispenses with petty indie trappings like story, deeper meaning, and detailed art to concentrate first and foremost on gameplay. The bold and simple red, green, and blue shapes still work rather well as a simple, clean art style to facilitate said gameplay. Fortunately, it does offer several tweakable options for those gamers with colour blindness, which is very helpful considering the otherwise problematic colour scheme. The little bit of narrative in the game serves as not a story, but a dialogue from the developer offering encouragement and enigmatic clues about how to beat some of the trickier sequences. It’s a very distilled style, which doesn’t come across as particularly technically impressive on the surface but does allow for plenty of focus on actual content of the game itself.
In Colour Bind, you control a two-wheeled contraption in a world where gravity is always linked to certain colour combinations and isn’t fussy about up or down. You’ve got a couple of tricks in this car, such as the ability to pump up your tires as a slightly temperamental jump, while spinning your wheels obviously moves the vehicle, but also rotates and controls your airborne inertia. The last real gimmick is the brake button, which begins as a superfluous addition, but slowly becomes a critical part of the tool box for getting a grip on the tricky courses. The game is all about controlling momentum and leveraging the physics to suit your purposes, when 99% of the time the physics seem to want to do the opposite. To cap it all off, Colour Bind throws in a few curve balls, like the fact that each of the primary colours responds to a different direction of gravity, and several levels use lasers that can quickly repaint and reorient the environmental and the player. Sometimes, these lasers use a combination of colours or simply remove colour and gravity altogether. Add in switches and arrows that reorient the gravity yet again, and you have a fluid and surreal world to work in.
It bears repeating that this game is difficult. Sometimes it seems impossible, and often, it’s frustrating, but finally beating a level is always exhilarating. Sometimes the difficulty stems from a rather tricky puzzle or confusing level layout, and it only gets more complex as the game goes on. There are some ludicrous feats of balance, timing, and speed that you won’t be capable of without plenty of restarting and practice. Often, a large part of the challenge comes from the controls, which are unusual. The aforementioned tire inflation does work as a jump, but only when both wheels are on the ground, and even then it can be tough to manipulate. The only real sticking point is control aspects that are counter-intuitive to the gravity bending design. Tapping a direction when upside down spins the wheels just as they would with sensible gravity, but the changed perspective means left is right and vice versa, which makes sense on paper but feels wonky to control. Obviously it’s part of the challenge, and the alienation is used to great effect on some of the later levels, but learning to cope with the gravity screwballs is a feeling that never quite clicked. Despite that nitpick, the single-player levels are endlessly inventive and memorable, always using new challenges and designs with very few repeats or rehashes. In fact, a large part of the challenge seems to come from the sheer variety.
The biggest challenge is the physics, which are very unpredictable and hard to wrangle. The engine is very well designed, and the physics have their own charm, but the unpredictability is hard to master. For those used to the buttery smooth engines of Super Meat Boy and the like, the chaotic physics of Colour Bind often feel out of control and sometimes seem to drift into borderline unfair territory. You’ll bounce off edges, spin around too quickly, botch many jumps, and struggle with some of the balancing acts. Again, this is part of the game’s design philosophy, where you don’t learn to master the physics, but instead to cope in spite of them. That’s not to say that the entire game is won and lost on the whims of the engine, because player skill still matters a great deal. But sometimes you can’t help but feel helpless as you watch your car spin off a platform into the infinite depths.
Aside from the fifty single-player levels, there are twenty more splitscreen co-op challenges to tackle. Better yet, the game is designed to take full advantage of the Steam Workshop, which promises many player created levels to come. And for those who think outside the box, the game’s achievements are almost exclusively centered around completing levels with alternative hidden solutions, throwing seemingly impossible conditions into already tough levels for quite a bit of extra replay value.
Final Verdict: Colour Bind isn’t a game for everyone, but it’s still certainly worth a look if you’re after a true challenge. There’s a lot to love in this creative puzzler. The game uses physics quite unlike any other platformer out there, with some unique obstacle courses and elements that depend a lot on player skill and improvisation instead of rote memorization and predictable timing. If you’re looking for a different sort of challenge with a lot of content mixed in, this is the one to pick up.
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam PC version of Colour Bind provided by Finn Morgan distributed by Puppy Punch Productions.