ChromaGun Review

I'm in a fairly plain white room at a clandestine testing facility. In my hand I've got an odd, experimental gun. A voice is coming over the speakers in the room, snarkily commenting on what I'm doing. Cameras are watching me everywhere. There are little robots that are trying to kill me. I press the trigger, and something blue shoots out of the gun, attaching to a wall – but instead of one end of a portal, it's literally just the color blue, changing the white wall to a vibrant azure shade. 

ChromaGun makes no bones about the fact it was inspired by Portal. It even throws in a small reference to it at the end. The game is another in a growing sub-genre of first-person puzzlers with some kind of stage-manipulating gizmo in hand. ChromaGun's main difference is that you're shooting colors, mostly to manipulate little robots that move towards walls of the same color as them.

There's an inherent limitation to this, and the game runs into it about halfway through. Very rarely is there a puzzle that really requires you to, well, puzzle it out. A quick look around the room and it's generally pretty easy to know where to start. You can usually even stumble your way to a solution if it isn't that obvious at first. On one hand it's nice that the game isn't particularly punishing when it comes to making mistakes, but on the other hand it feels pretty much like you're just walking between rooms without any issues. 

Then there are some baffling design decisions – like the opportunity window to get things done in a mere couple of seconds. If you miss it, you have to redo it. Also, sometimes you need to run through a fire to solve the puzzle while constantly taking damage. Anything that requires the kind of pinpoint-precision of the former is really difficult to do, partly because analogue sticks inherently lack precision, but especially so for the Switch. I've found in other games that the Joycons can be difficult to aim with, which just exacerbates the issues here. Anything like the latter, though, just isn't fun because the fire tanks the frame rate and if you get turned around, you'll die and have to reload. 

A puzzle game like ChromaGun is about how it builds on the concept it introduces at the beginning. The big issue is that the mechanic of "color the walls to make robots to move" doesn't seem like it's ripe for any further ideas. The game introduces things like floors that kill the robots if they touch it, or walls that (rather confusingly) reflect the paint onto other surfaces. Neither of these is given much room to grow beyond how they're used when first encountered. The best puzzle games introduce ideas and then find a way to surprise you with them later on, or complicating and escalating their use. ChromaGun more or less leaves things as they were when you first found them, the only escalation being how many mechanics are present in a level, as opposed to how they're used. In fact one of the big changes for one of the chapters is that the lights are turned off so the colors are harder to see. I thought this was going to be a permanent thing, since it was after the first time the facility caught fire, but after finishing the chapter, the lights were on again.

Though the writing isn't exactly excellent, I was definitely surprised at how little of it there was. About halfway through, the snarky voice over the radio more or less stops and leaves you alone until the end of the game. I must say I missed the voice. Without that little extra flavor, it was just me going through mostly plain rooms all by myself. It felt lonely in a way I don't think it was intended.

While I do feel the puzzles were often very simple, ChromaGun was still a reasonably enjoyable experience. It's simple and pretty no-frills, sure, but the act of coloring the walls and robots still held a good amount of satisfaction. It's like having an army of little bugs going to work for you, as you watch your bots doing your bidding, going between colored spots and hitting switches. Coming into a fully white room and looking back as you leave, seeing it now in full color and buzzing with bots, has its charms too. It reminded me of de Blob, that Wii game no one but me remembers. 

ChromaGun is a fine enough puzzler, though it feels like it's missing things you might want from games of the same ilk. The puzzles don't particularly evolve much and neither does the looks, making the game feel rather static and simple most of the way through. Despite some odd difficulty spikes, the game is something you can mostly breeze through without too much issues. If you're looking for a quick puzzle fix something in the vein of Portal, it's gonna scratch that itch decently enough.