‘Charming Indie Puzzle-Platformer’ is a term that gets bounded about so often these days that it makes me a bit apathetic when a new one is announced for release. However, on watching the trailer for Hue, I was quite intrigued. At its core, Hue is another puzzle game with a standout mechanic, but is it any more than that?
Developed by Fiddlesticks, and published by Curve Digital, Hue centres on the eponymous hero’s quest to save his mother from being trapped in the ‘mono world’, with only a ‘colour ring’ at your disposable. There’s a tiny bit more to it than that, but essentially, as silly as it sounds to begin with, that’s the premise. Along the way, you’ll populate the ring with shards of colour that allow you to manipulate the game’s background to help you get through each puzzle.
The story unfolds as Hue collects a series of notes in between sets of ‘levels’; they’re not really levels in the purest form, but more a collection of puzzles that eventually end up with a guy that looks completely lifted from Spirited Away’s ‘No Face’ watching you, and then walking away toward the next unlockable colour. The notes are delivered through a very well-spoken British voiceover that plays out whilst Hue walks through an uninteresting path for around 60 seconds each time. It’s a bit of a dull way to deliver the story; the accent is so over-the-top that it takes a while to get used to it, and having Hue just continue to walk, jump and climb ladders whilst the speech is playing feels like a bit of a cop out.
This is disappointing, because the presentation of the game is generally quite beautiful, when you’re outside of the puzzles, at least. After the introductory story note, Hue awakes in his bedroom. A short moment later, you’re outside in a gloriously drawn seaside village, the camera zoomed in much closer than during puzzles, and you can’t help but marvel at the vibrant art, animation and music all coming together. It’s quite stunning, and kind of a shame that the game doesn’t continue to impress when you’re in the puzzle rooms, where it just becomes functional, and nothing more.
In the first few minutes of my game, I thought that it was going to be played out in the vein of Guacamelee; the feel of walking around the village being very similar, and when you change the background colour to unlock your first path in a cave, you expect yet another metroidvania experience. Hue, however, sticks to a very linear path, and in many ways, offers a lot of simplicity in tandem with it’s colour-changing wow-factor.
However, during those first couple of hours unlocking the new colours, the simplicity makes it so easy that it all feels like a bit of a grind. Imagine a game’s tutorial lasting for two hours, with every few screens stopping to ask you, ‘Are you ok? Do you know what’s going on?’. That’s how I felt whilst playing through the first section; ‘Yes! I’m fine, let’s get on with it!’. Aside from a few boulders chasing you, or thwomp-like skulls dropping overhead, it’s all quite basic in the beginning and certainly not taxing. The trouble is, by the time you’ve done all of this, you start to think that you’ve nearly finished the game once you collect the last of the colours, and your false sense of security quickly finds out that the real stuff is just around the corner, and it’s a bit of a shock.
Once you’ve reached the realisation that you’ll not be done for a while, the game gets really good, if still a bit on the easy side. Once you start what is really the second half of the game (and I won’t spoil it by saying anything about the setting), the puzzles become much more inventive. Thick, object-altering spray paints and thin, deadly paint lines cause you to stop, look at the room and make a plan before you act, rather than in the beginning, where 90% of the time you could just make it up as you go, and breeze right through without any issues. Having said that, the only puzzle that made me think for more than ten minutes was the very final one, and that was just because I’d missed something obvious, which I kicked myself for afterwards.
Looking at my stats after finishing Hue, I died 90 times. Probably 10-15 of these were through making bad decisions near the end of the game, and the rest were due to difficulties using the colour wheel. Don’t get me wrong, the general control is absolutely fine; what platforming there is to do can be achieved perfectly. All of the colour-changing is done on the right thumbstick, and once I had a full circle of colours to choose from, it just didn’t register enough times for me to be completely satisfied (and maybe sometimes I let out the slightest of swears). It’s not a big complaint, though, mainly because the idea is just so great, and it’s what makes this game stand out from others.
And, ultimately, what there is of a story is reasonable, it’s sentimental enough, and resolves in a satisfying way, and even though it stuck with me a little, it doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights for me that it thinks it does, if that makes sense. Still, that glorious piano music doesn’t hurt; it’s one of the best things about the game, and when it works together with the imagery, it’s really quite something.
Hey, Fiddlesticks, I’ll gladly take a sequel, just make it a bit harder next time.
Thanks to Xbox, Curve Digital and Fiddlesticks for supporting TiX