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Complete Review & Description

Monochroma is a new 2D platform-puzzler from Nowhere Studios in Turkey. It’s set in an alternate 1950s, and it presents a bleak, black-and-white world where adults toil away in robot factories (and other, nastier, places) and children are left to try and survive the best they can.

It’s a polluted, ruined world where childhood doesn’t mean anything (apart from something to be bottled and extracted and made use of). The world is stark, and industrial: think endless warehouses with mechanised worklines, and flaming barrels belching black smoke. The only trees around are dead ones, and those are being chopped up to make wood shavings.
It’s pretty dire.

The game begins with two young brothers, out and about, playing with a kite. The younger brother takes a terrible fall, and suddenly the older brother has to take control and get his younger sibling to safety.

At least – I think that’s the aim. It’s hard to know one way or the other, because in Monochroma, no-one speaks. There’s no explanation why the brothers are in their predicament (how they got there, or where they are going) – there’s just the sound of the older brother’s footsteps as he slowly makes his way through the maze of industry, little brother in tow.

As the younger brother really is hurt, he’s completely unable to walk, which puts a burden on the older brother. Carrying the younger one, he’s unable to jump as high or far, which makes negotiating the environment just that much more difficult.

The little brother is also afraid of the dark; he’ll only let his brother put him down in an area completely illuminated – and these are few and far between. So what usually happens is you will come to a new area, you’ll have to seek out a spot to put the brother down, and then go off and find a way through before you can come back and get him. In many cases, his position is a perilous one, and it takes a lot of jigging and re-jigging to get him out of the way so you can forge a new path past the current obstacles without getting him crushed by falling crates or containers.

Big brother’s movement, even without his little brother, is pretty limited. He can jump, push and pull things, as well as pick up and put down his brother. This is one area where the game really does fall down, in that it makes use of some non-standard key mappings (W to jump, for example, and Space to pick up and put down the little brother), and doesn’t allow for any modification. As a result, it gave me that “not quite right” feeling while I was playing.

The response of the character to the key presses also leaves a lot to be desired; the game demands a relatively high degree of precision in passing some of the puzzles, and the controls (as well as the physics engine) create enough unpredictability with your ability to move the character the way you want him to. It creates an atmosphere of frustration rather than challenge – at least in this reviewer’s opinion.

As a result of this, the little brother starts to feel more and more like a pain in the neck, rather than someone a big brother would go out of his way for. More than once I found myself wishing I could ditch the kid and just get the hell out of there, despite his obvious (and heart wrenching) vulnerability. Rather than reinforcing the sibling bond, the game serves to drive it apart. Add all this to the fact that you’re really not sure where you are going, or why, and the impulse to keep pressing on soon starts to dissipate.

There are also a few buggy sections, such as when I stepped on a submerged barrel that was meant to sink under my weight. It descended a bit, and then stopped, leaving me (and it) underwater, but still alive.

But the buggy sections bothered me less than the clunky controls (evidenced by my own reaction while playing the game, which involved no little amount of desk pounding and cursing). The controls aren’t consistently responsive; ledges to grip on to when jumping are hard to hit just right. And though some others have described the puzzles as easy, I got stuck on one section. I later realised I’d spent over an hour wracking my brain, and repeatedly failing to get through. The controls were never going to become any more yielding or accessible for me.

The thing is, it’s a great looking game. The look and feel is wonderful and moody, punctuated with flashes of red, such as a boy’s blowing scarf or a blooming flower found at the bottom of a well. And it’s great seeing games coming out of all corners of the world. But this only makes the experience all the more frustrating, as I hate having to talk about the negatives when I’d really rather be getting my pom-poms out and giving the company my very best cheer.

But at the same time – how much of the game’s great looks is integral to the story and how much is just window dressing? What is the older brother thinking, taking his injured brother through such difficult terrain? And if their way is the only way to safety, then how did they get to the countryside with the kite to begin with?

Perhaps such questions aren’t meant to be thought about too deeply, but as I struggled with the controls and watched the brothers die over and over again, I couldn’t help but wonder what they – and subsequently I – were doing there in the first place.



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