Monday, February 8, 2016

Game Review - Polychromatic (Xbox One, 2015)

Even as games get more complex, there will always be a market for old school games where the only goal is to rack up as many points as possible.  Unfortunately, you can't just re-skin an early-80s arcade game and hope to have a quality product; you have to add something to your game to give it the depth or longevity necessary to compete for our money.

That's where Polychromatic misses the mark - there's nothing technically wrong with the game, but it lacks the depth to even make it worth the admittedly low $5 price tag.  Here's what it's all about:

The Basics

Without any fanfare, Polychromatic gives you control of a little square in a circular arena, and you can move around and fire bullets like any twin-stick shooter.  Your only mission is to survive by destroying all the other shapes that appear.

Woo explosions!

That's it.  That's the entire game.

To be fair, I'm exaggerating a little bit.  There are three game modes, though they are really just small modifications on the same formula (you're in the same arena each time, the only difference is that you only get one life in one mode, and you have a time limit in another).  You also have a couple special weapons, a dash that can rush through enemies and a blast that will fire bullets all around you, but those additions are pretty minor.

The game is honestly the most bare-bones twin-stick shooter that I've played in a long time.

The Good

Polychromatic's biggest plus is that it nails the aesthetics.  Everything is colored with soft pastels, and even your enemies exploding has a gentle feel to it.  And the soundtrack is nice.  It's borderline ambient music at times, and there's not a whole lot of diversity, but it's pretty mellow.  The whole thing makes for a surprisingly calming experience.

Aside from that, I guess the really basic mechanics are good?  You can get into a bit of trouble during gameplay because the explosions often obscure what the evil geometries are doing, but my deaths never felt cheap - it was always clearly my fault, which is ideal for this sort of game.

A selection of half the types of enemies in the game.

I know that's not exactly detailed praise, but there's not much to say.  In a game with simple controls and limited content, the sights, sounds, and fundamentals are really all that you can even talk about.

The Bad

And that is Polychromatic's biggest flaw.

I have no real complaints about anything in the game because there's so little actually in the game.  There are no powerups or point multipliers, there's only one arena to challenge you, and the three game modes are all identical in the way they play.  Hell, even the enemies are all pretty much the same, with varying movement speeds being the biggest differences between them.

It feels like I'm stuck commenting on the tutorial for a much larger game,

As you might expect, the result is very limited replay value.  Unless you're driven by a deep desire to reach the top spot on the leaderboard, there's nothing to encourage you to come back after your first handful of plays.  Contrast that with other similar games (Geometry Wars certainly comes to mind), and you'll find that Polychromatic simply can't compete even within its genre, let alone with much grander games.

Granted, it's only going for $5, so it deserves a bit of a leeway with some of my complaints.  Even so, I don't think it's worth your money because it's only marginally better than free Flash games from a decade ago.

If you're desperate for another game where you can outperform your friends on a leaderboard, you might give Polychromatic a shot.  Otherwise, you're better off investing those five bucks into something a little more expensive but worth significantly more.

My Rating: 5/10 - ok.

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