Hue Review: living in color in this smart, charming platformer

 

The PS Plus lineup of free games vary wildly in quality from month to month, but there’s no denying that Sony manages to offer some hidden gems for subscribers. I added Hue to my library when it was offered a while back, and I was looking for something to play recently, and just on a whim, I decided to launch it. Developed by Fiddlesticks, Hue is a delightful puzzle platformer with a unique twist on the genre: colors define your experience here.

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You play as Hue, a young boy in search for his missing mother, a woman who literally discovered color in a grayscale world. Found letters throughout the world tell the complicated story of her relationship with Mr. Grey at a nearby University. The story weaves in and out of philosophy and academic tangents, but it never strays from its emotional anchor: a mother and the relationship with her son. I wouldn’t launch the game expecting Shakespeare or The Witcher III, but it’s a neat tale with interesting undertones.

Your mother bestows her color-changing gadget to you, allowing you to shift between a spectrum of colors in order to tackle the puzzles in each room. There’s a red box blocking your way? Shift the world to red and that box disappears.  Need that box to jump on a ledge later on? Shift to another color for it to reappear. The puzzles start off basically that simple, but as you gain more colors, the puzzles become daunting. Lasers, motion activated death blocks, and slime that warps the colors of objects all become part of the equation. By the last section of the game, the amount of factors and steps you need to consider to solve a puzzle is challenging for even veteran platformers.

 

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This is one of the many rooms that left me dumbstruck at first. Prepare for lots of trial and error to get through some rooms.

 

However, the puzzles never felt unfair. Every time a solution dawned on me, I had to smile in surprise at the clever design. There’s no combat, and if Hue is ever killed by any of the traps, you simply restart the room. It’s a weird tonal shift watching Hue get impaled by spikes or struck by a death laser, but it doesn’t ruin the experience. The only major complaint I have with the game is the similarity between the colors, especially in moments where the puzzles required quick thinking and reaction. Discerning between yellow and gold, pink and a light purple, and blue and darker blue while trying to outrace falling rocks made me wonder if I was colorblind.

My playthrough of Hue is something I wish I can experience again for the first time. It is a short but surprising journey, full of difficult but clever puzzles. While not perfect, it was a joy to play, and I hope others give this one a chance.

 

 

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Wild Pokemon: The Pokemon Game 20 years Overdue

One of the best moments in Breath of the Wild happens just around midnight. If you stand on the grassy knoll south of Lanayru Bay, you’ll see Naydra appear in the western sky. It’s a long, serpent like dragon, and its icy blue scales and spikes glimmer even in the dark. The dragon moves quietly, and Manaka Kataoka’s score only elevates what is already a mystical scene in your journey through Hyrule. It feels lifted right out of a Miyazaki movie, and it’s one of the reasons BOTW is such a beloved title in gaming.

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Now imagine this scene above but with an Ho-Oh soaring through the clouds, just like Ash and Pikachu witnessed in one of the most famous scenes in the Pokemon anime.

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Nintendo has essentially released the same game for 20 years. Each entry has the same game play loop: grab your starter, wander around in dense forests and caves hunting for new Pokemon, beat Youngster Jimmy, tackle the gyms, and press A furiously to get through another conversation. Sure, we have spin-offs like Pokken Tournament DX and Pokemon Snap (somehow both the best and worst Pokemon game of all time), but most fans can jump into any game and know what to expect.

Although the upcoming release of Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu looks like a fun entry, it’s still only a remake meant to draw in a more casual fan base. Am I excited to ride around town on a full-scale Onix? Absolutely. Am I excited for more of Nintendo’s motion control shenanigans? Absolutely not. But hope is kindled: Nintendo announced a brand new Pokemon game on the Switch in 2019 and die-hard fans can only dream about the possibilities. Although the Switch isn’t a powerhouse, we’ve seen it run some impressive titles, and BOTW is the best inspiration to help take Pokemon in an exciting direction. This is the perfect moment for Nintendo to realize the potential of a Pokemon game.

Arguably the most important character in BOTW is Hyrule itself: the mountain ranges and scorched deserts, the swamps and forests. The landscape is alive, full of animals, monsters, and strange creatures. I think Nintendo needs to replicate that in the next Pokemon game. I’m not saying we need to adopt the survivalist aspect of BOTW (please, I don’t need my Charmander dying in a rainstorm), but let the Pokemon roam free in a fully realized landscape. I want to see herds of Taurus running across the plains, or a Gyarados breaking the surface of the water in the distance. I want to run through a flock of Spearow or watch Eevee dart into the bushes. Heck, I even want to see a 12 meter tall Alolan Exeggutor roaming around the shores. The games seem to have mostly forgotten that these are wild animals, and I want Nintendo to remember that.

I think there are a number of aspects from the core games that can be carried over. They should allow NPC trainers to challenge you as you explore, and I think the turn-based battle system is worth keeping, if not evolving. But I think we need to expand the gyms to make them more challenging and epic. We can train our Pokemon through random wild battles and hunt for items in thick grass and forests. I want a sweeping journey to the Pokemon League, just like the anime, and I think Nintendo can deliver on that.

I understand Nintendo’s hesitancy to make an “adult” game. Their main audience are children, I get that. But that doesn’t mean the games need to be dumb. I’m currently playing through Pokemon X, and I swear, it feels like I’m just following what my game friends tell me to do. Has Nintendo seen a 12 year old play Fortnite? Trust me, those kids need no guidance. Games have become more and more complex, and while Nintendo has added tweaks to each title, it’s still a relatively linear experience. I think with a brand name as established as Pokemon, they have the liberty to take some risks and redefine the experience.