Out of everything that affects our everyday lives, Gravity may be the one thing that is most taken for granted. Always present, its constant hold is only broken through force, whether it be by the flex of muscle or the combustion power of booster rockets. You never have to think about it, it’s simply always there.
Imagine, for a moment, that rules governing gravity changed. Instead of gravity being determined by the mass of an object, an object’s color instead determines both the direction and force of gravity’s pull. In this new world, something as simple as changing your shirt could send you flying from the floor to the ceiling. It’s this fundamental concept, gravity defined by color rather then mass, that Colour Bind, a half platformer/half physics nightmare designed by independent game developer Finn Morgan, explores as unforgivingly as possible.
Separated into 50+ levels, Colour Bind asks you to drive a space buggy (read “rectangle with wheels”) across a barren, 2d landscape. Able to hop through the use of rapidly expanding wheels, your buggy takes on different colors in order to manipulate its relative gravity, all in an effort to reach the Prism Point that marks the end of the level.
To help you reach your goal, individual colors are displayed in circles at the bottom of the screen, with each color contacting an arrow radiating from its center, pointing in the direction of its specific gravity. For example, a level might contain a red circle with an arrow pointing down, a blue circle with an arrow pointing to the right, and a green circle with its arrow pointing up. Objects in the environment that are colored hold to the same rules, though most of the time they are stationary until acted upon.
The space buggy starts the level with its color and relative gravity pulling it towards whatever surface it is positioned on. From there, using either a gamepad or keyboard, you can move your wheels either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Colour Bind is very specific about this, as thinking in terms of left and right can quickly become disorienting when you’re driving across the ceiling, or up a wall. The buggy picks up speed pretty quickly, and a brake is included that thankfully can stop the wheels on a dime. Jumps seem to float a bit more then you would want, and the reactions of the buggy in open space can be surprising, especially when gravity shifts not only the direction of the jump, but also it's speed and height.
Driving the floaty, spinny physics buggy through a series of precise jumps is difficult enough, as it doesn't always react the way you think it should, but the true insidious nature of Colour Bind only shows itself when attempting these feats while passing color strands. Looking like bright spider webs, these strands change the color of the buggy, immediately shifting its gravity. Early levels only throw a couple color changes at you, but later levels seem to delight in bouncing your buggy across the screen.
Adding to this, many levels contain walls marked with colored “F’s”. These marks serve as instant fail identifiers; ending up on a wall with an “F” that matches your color means you’re stuck, as gravity keeps you from escaping its surface. Luckily, the developer included an instant reset button, allowing you to jump right back to the beginning with no loading at all.
A clock counts down how long it takes to beat a level, and medals are awarded based on your performance against a par time. New levels are unlocked upon completion, regardless of the time taken.
Colour Bind includes a co-op mode, allowing two friends at the same computer to attempt special co-op only levels. Upping the physics insanity by a factor of “holy hell,” these levels require perfect coordination between partners to reach the end goal. I can’t even begin to imagine attempting these with someone over the internet, so the lack of online matchmaking makes complete sense. Also included in the package is a level editor, with new levels able to be downloaded from the Steam Workshop.
Colour Bind looks like a physics program you would find installed on a computer in a high school science class. The simple design makes the gameplay the focus, and it does its job admirably. Backgrounds and foregrounds are separated through shades of grey, making anything that’s colored immediately pop, but after playing through the multitude of levels, the bleak clinicalness of the levels begins to eat away at the experience.
I have a difficult time describing Colour Bind as fun. While the gameplay is solid, it’s difficult and unforgiving, almost to a fault, though to its credit, it makes very clear its intent right at the onset. What I often found most frustrating was seeing exactly what needed to be done, and simply being unable to physically perform the action. It’s my fault completely, for the controls are always tight and responsive, but that makes the experience even more frustrating. This kind of frustration can serve to drive you forward, especially if you’re the kind of player who lives for the perfect run, which always seems like it’s just outside your (my) grasp.
While other games, especially indie classics like Super Meat Boy, have brought back the difficulty levels of bygone eras, I think the bleakness of the setting really works against Colour Bind. There’s nothing to get lost in, nothing to serve as a distraction. There’s nothing but the puzzle in front of you, and when that puzzle seems unbeatable, when it breaks you, I can see many people putting it down and simply not picking it up again.
Colour Bind is a difficult game. If you like solid puzzles and gameplay, or simply like chasing a challenge, it’s an easy game to recommend, especially with extras like co-op and a level editor built in. For those without the drive to continually push forward, this is probably not the game for you.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!