Colored Effects Review – 7/10
Contributed by DJMMT
I was not aware of this game before this month, but apparently the PC version has been out since June. For this review, I played the Nintendo Switch version, which is releasing this month (November 2023), courtesy of the publisher, Flynn’s Arcade. Colored Effects is a 2D puzzle platformer that’s light on the platforming and heavy on the puzzle. It was actually the first game I played after Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and ironically it pairs well as a follow-up to that game, because in many ways it’s an antithesis of that experience while technically being part of the same genre. Albeit at a much lower budget by comparison.
While Colored Effects uses a simple, fairly straight forward art style, it works quite well for what this game is. This is not a stylized platformer that’s as much about the worlds the levels are taking place in as the challenging gameplay. Instead, it’s a gameplay focused experience that uses color as the primary tool for solving the puzzles. The game does not want to distract you with morphing backgrounds and other epic visual stimuli. It’s a simple white background with a few patterns for flavor layered behind a grey, cement-like foreground where the platforming takes place. There are a few trees and bushes to add a bit more color to the game’s setting, but the majority of colored elements are interactive objects used to play the game.
The game’s title is clearly inspired by the major premise of the gameplay. This world has colors that add an effect to the player on contact. Each of those effects gives the player a different ability which must be used to solve the puzzles and escape each level. One of the nice things about the game’s visuals is that most things are obvious just by looking at them. While there are a number of text-based tutorials that appear as you progress through the game, it’s not too hard to figure out how things work and what your goals are just by looking at the stages. Each level has an exit. Your ultimate goal is to reach that exit. Exits are blocked by colored locked gates. You open those gates by collecting keys matching the gates’ colors. It’s not rocket science.
Similarly, the game has a very informative HUD in the top left corner, but it’s mostly pointless. It tells you which keys you have collected, which power you currently have, and shows the cooldown for the powers that have them. During boss fights, of which there are five, the key collection display changes into a hearts display, to tell you how many hits you have left before dying. It’s a really well-designed HUD that’s easy to interpret at glance. However, you rarely if ever use it intuitively. With the exception of checking your health during boss fights and seeing your power cooldown, the HUD doesn’t show you anything you can’t already see just by looking at the levels. It’s well-designed, but a bit of a waste.
While minimal in scope, the audio experience in Colored Effects is pretty good for what it is. There’s no music in the main menu or other menu screens, so at first I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the actual gameplay music is solid. That said, the game only has two songs. One for puzzle levels and a different one for boss levels. Both songs are better than I would have expected; but hearing the same song across 35 puzzle levels starts to wear on you. Especially if you get stuck on a level for an extended period of time. Even my wife commented that she was tired of hearing the same music over and over again as I struggled to get past the same puzzle for over an hour. I was happy with the sound effects. The developers definitely put in the time to deliver a quality product on this front. From jumping, to collecting keys, to using powers, everything has its own distinct sound. This is especially noticeable during boss fights, where each attack is distinct both audibly and visually. Note that you can set the music and sound effects volumes individually in the options menu.
This game doesn’t really have a story. Or rather, the story is much more metaphorical than literal. I could easily have crafted a story to this game as it currently is, but it isn’t really necessary to accomplish what Colored Effects sets out to do. The only writing in the game is the short tutorial messages and the final “Thanks for playing!” note when you beat the game. Yet they still took the time to produce translations of the text into English, Spanish, French, Japanese, and Russian. My only complaint about the writing, since there’s not much of it, is that the word “hints” is not capitalized in the options menu. Obviously, it’s not that big of a deal.
As I said earlier, Colored Effects is a puzzle platformer with a heavy emphasis on the puzzle part. In fact, outside of the five boss fights, there is barely a negligible amount of skill-based platforming. Jumping from platform to platform is a way to move around the puzzles, but it barely registers as an obstacle to beating the game. If you can press the jump and a direction on either the joystick or d-pad at the same time, then you can handle the platforming in this game. Traversal is very basic and limited, by design. There are no wall jumps or other specialized movement tactics, outside of the ones granted by using powers. This game is about solving the puzzles, and some of them are quite difficult. There are 35 puzzle stages and 5 boss fights. Most of the puzzle stages can be completed in about five minutes, if you can figure out the solution quickly. However, some of these puzzles require you to think in ways that aren’t at all obvious. More than one of them took me over an hour to solve.
There are five color-based powers available. However, not all of them appear in every stage. Yellow gives you a dash that can be used both on the ground and in the air. It is one of two powers that have a cooldown. Blue gives you a double jump, but it cannot be used from a mid-air position. Red allows you to shoot fireballs, but you can only shoot up to three at a time. If you shoot a fourth fireball before the first one connects with a target/obstacle, the first one will disappear, having been replaced by the fourth one. Purple gives you the ability to teleport in one of four directions. This is the only other power that also has a cooldown. Finally, green allows you to make a clone block of yourself. The clone disappears if you get too far away from it or change powers. It should be noted that you can only use one power at a time, and you have to walk over power points to swap colors. Meaning, you can’t hot swap powers at will. Unless two power points are near each other, which sometimes is the case.
While most puzzle stages simply require you to reach the exit, a few of the later stages add a component where you need to reach the exit while wearing a certain color, or colors in certain cases. These levels are some of the most interesting, because you have to not only reach the door multiple times, but also do it in different ways each time, as you have to reach the door wearing a different color for each pass. And it won’t work if you do it in the wrong order. Sometimes, you need to get up and stop playing for a while, when you get stuck on a puzzle. Interestingly enough, it’s the simplistic gameplay that keeps you going back to Colored Effects. As it’s only 40 stages and each one is pretty short, you feel compelled to finish the game. It’s not a huge commitment and can technically be finished in one session, if you’re able to solve all the puzzles. It’s that lack of meaningful commitment that motivates you to see the game through to the end. Yet the game isn’t particularly epic or complicated. You jump, use single button powers, and push/pull blocks. That’s really all the gameplay is. But it works.
Boss fights differ slightly from the puzzle gameplay, because they actually are more about platforming, but they too are puzzles in their own way. You only get three hits for each boss fight; and all of them a drastically different from each other in how the bosses behave. The boss fights give the game more of a traditional platforming feel. I would have liked to see more of them.
A really nice QOL feature is the restart option. When you die, get trapped, or just can’t move forward because you made a mistake, you can restart the level from the options screen at any time. Additionally, the stages have save points. Each stage has a single save point that you can use as many times as you want. At any time, you can reload to your last saved state in the level. With the minus button, you can do this instantly without a prompt. Or you can use the L button for a reload from save prompt. This feature made the flow of the gameplay way faster. That said, it’s definitely possible to save yourself into a trap and then have to restart the entire level. It’s not the end of the world when this happens though, since most levels only take a few minutes to complete once you’ve figured out what to do.
I didn’t have any performance issues with the game. There was no input lag or graphics issues. I will say that the yellow and purple power cooldowns often feel like they’re lagging. It’s not that the game is lagging. It’s that the cooldowns feel so unnatural to the rest of the game. As you don’t normally look at the HUD, you often forget that those two powers have to recharge before using them again. I get why this is the case, but in my opinion it’s more of a detriment to the overall experience than an instance of keeping the game balanced. You constantly feel like the game is lagging, even though it’s just the cooldown. But again, this was an intentional design choice and not a bug or an instance of the game performing poorly. That said, I can’t say that there is anything particularly wrong with the gameplay overall.
Sadly, there’s no real replay value to Colored Effects. Each level is a puzzle; and once they’re solved, there’s no alternative way to solve them. So there’s no real reason to replay the game once beaten. That said, it’s only $5, so they’re pricing the game appropriately for its size and scope. While I don’t think the game was too short, I do think there should have been more boss fights. Or at least the boss fights should have been spread out a bit better. There are four boss fights in the first half of the game. Each of these unlocks a new color power. After the fourth boss in stage 14/40, there are no more boss fights until you reach the final stage. It’s a shame, because the boss fights are actually pretty good. I get why they didn’t have more. There were no more powers to unlock. But the distribution of them was weird and uneven.
Ultimately, I found Colored Effects to be a very pleasant experience. The learning curve isn’t very steep, but the puzzles are still quite challenging. For the price, it’s a fun little experience that you can easily jump in and out of for 40 stages of challenging but manageable puzzles. I absolutely think the Switch is the best platform to play a game like this on. Or a PC handheld, if you’ve jumped into that trend. You can get Colored Effects on Nintendo Switch for $5 starting November 23rd, or you can pick it up on Steam right now.