Combining mechanics in games can lead to some truly entertaining outcomes, but it can also become quite frustrating. If too many things are going on, the player can quickly lose focus and be unable to succeed. When playing a game requires focusing on three or more things at a time and messing up on one will cause death, it becomes incredibly easy for a player to lose interest because they cannot progress. This is the key issue plaguing Color Guardians, a side scrolling action-platformer that strongly resembles an endless runner.
Color Guardians takes place in the world Terra Color, where an evil being Krogma has stolen all the color and left everything in shades of grey and purple. You play as three Color Guardians – Rod, Lia, and Grock – and go on a quest to restore color to the land. Through 50 levels and 5 boss battles across various environments, the Guardians run, jump, fly, and glide to bring the colors back.
Color Guardians plays very similar to endless runners like Bit Trip Runner. There are predetermined stages filled with obstacles, and the characters move at a constant pace from left to right. There are three panes on the Z axis, a la LittleBigPlanet, that the players can move freely between in order to dodge obstacles on their path. What makes Color Guardians different from other games, however, is the use of color as a game mechanic. The player can change the color of the character at will, between blue, red, and yellow, and certain obstacles can only be bypassed while a certain color is active.
The levels are also filled with colored orbs that act as a sort of guide through the obstacles. The orbs can only be picked up if the character’s color matches that of the orb, and extra points are awarded for tapping the button tied to the color of the orb as it is collected. Players are given a score at the end of each level and are rewarded up to three stars for their performance.
On the surface, this seems like a game for children. It’s full of bright colors, fun shapes and animations, and relatively simple gameplay, but somewhere in the second world, it becomes clear that this is not the case. The difficulty ramps up drastically, adding more and more color-sensitive mechanics to the game. The difficulty hits a spike again in the fourth world, and remains very challenging for the remaining dozen or so levels. Personally, I found the earlier levels incredibly tedious, the middle levels quite enjoyable, and the later levels irritatingly difficult.
A key issue in Color Guardians is the amount of things a player must focus on at once. Switching between lanes amidst a flurry of obstacles is already a daunting task for some players, so tying that into the color-switching required to open up paths can lead to some incredibly tricky situations. Once timed obstacles are added into the mix late into the game, it becomes an absurd amount of information for any player to be expected to process at once, leaving the player feeling frustrated.
The framerate is another detrimental factor in Color Guardians. There were quite a few moments I encountered where the game would stutter, leaving me to guess what was coming next and unable to make actions based on visual cues. This became a more common occurrence once I reached the timed obstacles, making it near impossible to complete certain levels if the framerate happened to dip.
The boss battles in Color Guardians are all very similar, starting with a decently challenging platforming section and ending with a battle against Krogma. These battles consist of picking up colored bombs and throwing them back at the villain. Later battles add color-coded shields that have to be destroyed, more bombs, and in the final encounter, treadmills that speed up or slow down the player character. Because the bombs and shields are random, battles can last anywhere from a minute to five minutes, and with one death sending the player back to the start, five minutes is far too long to be expected to perform perfectly.
Outside of the boss battles, checkpoints are frequent. This leads to a much more satisfying experience for the player, requiring them to tackle small chunks of gameplay at a time rather than entire levels. Most of the levels are vibrant and colorful, giving the player something pleasant to look at while navigating the obstacles. The music is pleasant enough to be noticed, but not so wild as to become yet another distraction.
While I quite liked a fair number of the middle levels in Color Guardians, the dullness of the early stages and the absurdity of the latter ones left a sour taste in my mouth. There was too much to balance for the game to be great, even at its best, and the various flaws make Color Guardians a tough one to swallow. It’s tough to come up with a demographic that this game would be perfect for; children will become frustrated quite early and more experienced gamers won’t find the beginning of the game enjoyable enough to continue.
[Editor’s Note: Color Guardians is both Cross-Buy and Cross-Save for PS4 and Vita.]
Final Score 4.5
Available on Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, PC, Mac
Dev: Fair Play Labs
Pub: Fair Play Labs
Full disclosure: Review code was provided by the publisher.
This review was written by @bottlereviews. Follow him on Twitter!