Into the Red: Chronovolt

As the adage goes, “without darkness, there is no light.” With that in mind, this is Into the Red, a monthly feature where we discuss games with an average score that leaves them in Metacritic‘s red zone. You can checkout last month's edition of Into the Red here and last week's edition of the Backlog here.

Like some of my otherDarkstationcomrades that have tried before me, I was hoping for a little more revelation in my inaugural Into the Red entry. I thought I had at least a passing shot in Chronovolt, a game that apes a fringe genre that I have nonetheless found consistent enjoyment in over the years. I've heard these games called "marble platformers" before, which feels fitting. You control a rolling sphere (your "marble," literally and figuratively) and are tasked with guiding it through tight, winding passageways and segmented platforms. I've extracted plenty of fun from games like Marble Blast Ultra or Puzzle Dimension over the years. Those titles managed to construct a kind of movement model that sustains games like this. The easy to grasp but tricky to master fluidity and momentum of wrangling an ever-unbalanced sphere through more and more demanding challenges.

Judging from the YouTube videos and forum threads I ran into while researching the game, Chronovolt seems to have its supporters despite a near-universal critical and user panning. I don't get it. After spending a few hours with it, I submit that the critical average, in this case, seems spot on. Or perhaps a touch too generous. It doesn't manage even half as well as those other recent homages to Marble Madness I mentioned above.

It begins with a tremendously inane story about a girl named Jessica stopping a mad scientist from messing around with the flow of time. I did not finish Chronovolt, but during my all-too-extensive time with it, nothing about this setup was really explained or expanded upon. It's moreso an excuse to throw players into Mayan and ancient China-inspired backdrops with the purpose of mindlessly collecting "chronovolts" that in turn power banal rewind and freeze abilities to help get past trickier passages. So thoroughly undercooking an inherently complex subject is lame narratively, but sitting down to play Chronovolt is profoundly more disappointing.

As I was putting this article together, I realized that screenshots for the game look pretty good. The visuals look fine standing still, but seeing this game in motion on the Vita is downright shocking at times. Performance is horrendous; chugging through a level at a choppy framerate is the norm, and busier levels hack that struggling performance down even more. I thought the framerate must have been dipping into the single digits on more than a few occasions. This has a profound impact on how the game controls. The basic physics of how your ball handles don't feel great to begin with, but trying to tackle the demanding later stages with slideshow-esque performance was hot, smouldering garbage. Having to use the touch controls for some actions, you may expect, doesn't improve the state of affairs.

The game is want to remind you that extra Chronospheres (the "marbles") can be purchased - not unlocked - to help tighten up the controls in various ways and help make you an offensive power against the odd patrolling sentry. It feels like the later worlds are designed around these balls, leaving all but the most determined players to either pony up the three bucks or quit in frustration. Or both. The worst and most manipulative way to expand a game through DLC.

It's never an enjoyable task to damn a game, a product which always comes from a team of dedicated people who made no small investment in getting it funded, made and released, but I couldn't find an agreeable angle from which to view Chronovolt, try as I did. This is a fundamentally flawed release with nothing to offer even a longtime marble-man like myself, and in my mind it's earned its rightful place on the Metacrtic scale. There's no rolling back from this particular trip Into the Red, sadly.

That's it for this week's Into the Red. Check back next week for  the Hall of Fame. Until then, tell us what you thought of Chronovolt.