June 17, 2015 12:52 PM | John Bridgman
Simple to learn, difficult to master. In a way, that phrase is the ambition of nearly all puzzle games. To have something that new players can pick up quickly enough they are compelled to continue as the difficulty climbs higher usually means the developer has managed to create something memorable. Prismatica from Icelandic developer Loomus Games, available now on PC, mobile devices this July, fall on Xbox One, and next year on WiiU, Vita, and Ouya, is a game promising such an experience.
Based around matching coloured hexagons to the appropriate gears by rotating them with the mouse, Prismatica definitely succeeds in being easy to learn. The first tutorial level introduces you to the main mechanic, which is that the hexagon which overlaps the gears blends the two colours together. Red and blue combine to make purple, for example, so a purple hexagon goes in the space overlapping the red and blue gears.
It's very pleasant and charming visually, but there's definitely an issue here. The game completely lacks colourblind options, and that's a major disappointment. Since the game relies entirely on matching and blending colours, the lack of such a setting means that a portion of the audience simply cannot play the game. I hope that this gets corrected at some point, because despite this flaw, the game is fun and does make your mind work.
After a couple tutorial puzzles to show how the mechanics work and how the grading system works - three stars maximum, one for completion, one for meeting a target time, and the third for finishing within a target number of moves - the game starts upping the difficulty notably. I think some folks may find this type of puzzle easier than I do, but I found quickly that I meeting the targets was very challenging to me. It is possible to brute-force a solution by making slight changes to the way you turn the gears, but the targets for time and moves are very small and you'll quickly miss par if you try forcing your way to an answer.
The game is delightful to listen to, thanks to the work of indie musician Svarar Knutur who contributed to the soundtrack. A warm guitar track plays through as you work your way through the puzzles, though the gentle and contemplative nature of the music works against the need for quick work that the time-based target encourages. Hexagons as they're placed clack as you move them around, and clicks on the UI make a pleasing guitar twang.
Related to the sound of the game, despite the contemplative aesthetic, it's excessively happy for you when you complete a puzzle. Almost aggressively celebratory, finishing the puzzle rewards you with a chorus of cheers, cymbal crashes for each star you've achieved, and a happy la-la tune sung at you. It's notably louder than the rest of the sound and music in the game, and it can be quite the shock the first time it happens.
The difficulty ramps up as more colours and gears are introduced throughout the levels. Multiple colours will get blended together, and the degree to which they're mixed up increases as well. It manages to the difficult to master concept decently enough to be rewarding as you work your way through, though if you're stumped and find yourself brute-forcing your way through you might find the later puzzles overwhelming.
As a puzzle game with a simple mechanic, Prismatica is solid. It can be at odds with itself at times, with a relaxed and warm aesthetic working against the time-based challenges it offers, however the game is at its best at a slower, ponderous pace. The lack of colourblind options is a significant accessibility flaw, but hopefully this will be rectified in the future. Its mechanic won't appeal to every puzzle fan, but for those who can quickly grasp the nuance of how the puzzles work, it offers a lot of fun and challenge.