The puzzle platforming genre has fast become the benchmark for atmospheric, intricate indie games to deliver their creator’s evocative and vivid imaginations. Hue arrives off the back of a plethora of puzzle platformers that have defined and shaped the genre, and at first glance it certainly seems inspired by titles such as Limbo, Braid and Thomas Was Alone . Refreshingly however Hue is an enjoyable experience, and one that blends mesmerising colour shifting game mechanics with impressive level and game design.
When I originally started playing Hue I thought it would have a Metroidvania-style progression system. I thought unlocking new colours would allow me to journey to new areas and perform new actions in places I’d already discovered. While this is sort of the case as there is one section that has many paths blocked by colours that have not been acquired; the game doesn’t really define each colour as having a specific ability or function. Each colour does more or less the same thing and through progressing and collecting each colour the actual environment and level designs become more complicated and challenging. The game starts off by introducing you to its main game mechanic; the ability to change the background colour causing items in the environment of the same colour to disappear. You start off by simply switching colours to remove blockades but are soon faced with challenges that require you to switch between colours whilst moving and or platforming. Controlling Hue is very easy and when playing your main focus will be on jumping and the colour wheel. Changing colours on the PS4 is done with the right analogue stick, which worked very well. When bringing up the colour wheel the game would go into slow motion allowing you to perfectly time switching colours. This was very useful and fun to use in those high-speed reaction-based platforming sections, and remembering which colour is in which direction of the stick can become imperative to completing certain fast-paced sections.
The start of the game has you take control of Hue as he wakes up in his home, alone. As you search the environment you find a letter that initiates the narration of a young woman. This is more or less how the narrative of the game is divulged to the player. Each letter you find reveals more about this young woman who refers to you as “Dearest Hue.” She talks about the concept of colour, seeing in just black and white and her research with a certain “Dr. Grey.” Since the story and narrative are all done through these letters: there can be long periods of time between hearing anything about the meaning behind your adventure and your need to continue on. Occasionally, you’ll get a glance of a hooded figure who appears to be watching over your actions, but apart from that the plot seems very loosely connected to your actions, and at times can feel bolted on top of the puzzle platforming gameplay that takes up more or less the entirety of the game. There is little in the way of environmental storytelling and the few characters you meet along the way don’t offer any meaningful dialogue. With that said the narration is very well done and the writing overall is captivating and at times quite thought-provoking. The story itself is well-paced and the threads of narrative are all delivered with purpose, culminating in an ending that is somewhat satisfying.
As you begin to unlock more and more colours the game throws you all kinds of new and interesting obstacles. The difficulty curve in the game is particularly well balanced, and I never felt out of my depth at any time. One of the later levels had me timing my colour shifts to avoid different coloured lasers all around the environment whilst I simultaneously tried jumping between moving platforms. When the game is forcing you to move forward and rapidly switch between colours to avoid hazards it’s at its best, and even in static rooms there’s still an immediacy to keeping on the move and switching between the right colours. These static rooms usually clearly outline the exit, and the screen will zoom in or out to fit the entire environment, so it’s easy for you to plan what to do and how to progress. The way the game manages to stay fresh for its 8-10 hour campaign is truly impressive and almost entirely down to the brilliance of the level design. Each time you collect a new colour the levels alter slightly, adding new elements into the environment and new objects that can alter the coloured objects you can affect. Switches, Keys, Lasers, Bounce Pads, Thwomp-like skulls and coloured gunk spouts are all appropriately introduced and communicated to the player without the need for any tutorial or hint system.
The game’s atmosphere and music is suitable and well presented, but at times I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted to be more emotionally invested. When young Hue falls into spikes or gets shot in the head by a laser the game doesn’t pause and show you the horrific death of a small boy like Limbo may have done, it simply cuts to black and spawns you back at the start of the level. There’s no underlying tension or need to desperately move on. It’s all done in a somewhat cheery way with more of a focus on play and discovery.
When I started playing Hue, I didn’t know what to expect. If anything I thought it might be just another run-of-the-mill puzzle platforming title made by a small group of people. What I found was a meticulously designed game full of expertly crafted levels and a mechanic that is simple yet utilised in fantastic ways. With the majority of gameplay bringing a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. At times the game almost climbs to the heights of greats like Portal and Jonathan Blow’s The Witness.I’d highly recommend playing it but don’t go in expecting an emotional journey with unique characters; what’s there of a story is intriguing but nothing more.