It was recently announced that like some of the bands that may be in them, the music games Guitar Hero and Rock Band will be making a comeback with Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4, maybe even before the end of the year. But if you hate music, don’t want to buy a guitar-shaped controller, or just can’t wait that long, you can sort of get the same kind of gameplay, and more, from Color Guardians, a side-scrolling endless runner, platformer, and color matching game for PlayStation 4, Vita, PC, and Mac.
Made by Costa Rica’s Fair Play Labs, Color Guardians casts you as a weird little creature who grab red, blue, green, and multicolored orbs as they run. But while you can only grab an orb if your skin is the same color, you actually do that with the press of a button. Which, if you play on PS4 and Vita, would be the square button to turn red, “X” to turn blue, and the triangle to turn green.
Oh, but if only Color Guardians was that simple. For starters, you run down one of three lanes, but there are times when some may be closed off. Other hazards include racist flowers that only open if you’re the right color, color-blind creatures that will kill you regardless of your skin color, gaps in the path, and on and on. Plus, you can’t jump manually, you can only grab air if you hit the right colored mushroom or air jet. Though you can, once airborne, change lanes in mid-flight.
There are even levels where jumpy bits are strung together, which makes this feel like Donkey Kong Country. And it’s not the only time, as this also has levels where, instead of running, you’re taking a ride in a mine cart.
These aren’t the only instances when Color Guardians cribs from other games in interesting ways, though. While the basic mechanics obviously recall Guitar Hero and Rock Band, as well as endless runners and the Sonic The Hedgehog games, it also has large arrows on the ground that fling you forward and backward like they did in Wipeout and other futuristic racing games.
With all the hazards getting in your way, it’s a good thing that Color Guardians is fairly liberal with the checkpoints and gives you unlimited lives so you can do sections over and over and over until you finally get them right. Which isn’t to say Color Guardians is easy. Well, it is as first, and again when you start a new section of levels, but it does a good job of getting progressively harder in a way that never makes it feel like someone switched the difficulty from “easy” to “hard” when you weren’t looking (which would be a neat trick since the game doesn’t have that option).
This, however, is one of the complaints I have about Color Guardians: The lack of difficulty options. Though it’s mostly because I believe every game should have a choice of “easy,” “regular,” and “hard” difficulty settings, and that “easy” should be easy while “hard” should be hard. Especially if part of being “hard” involved adding more lanes. Like people who play the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, there are undoubtedly those who’ll want to play Color Guardians with four or five lanes to run down, and with even more orbs and hazards in each lane. Which is not to say there should be more lanes in “easy” as well, quite the contrary. Like I said, “easy” should be easy.
But the biggest problem with Color Guardians is, unfortunately, a rather intangible one. While the game is creative, switches things up nicely, and progresses well, it’s not that compelling. After playing for a bit, I took a break to do something else, and then never felt all that compelled to go back to it. Sure, it was fun when I finally did, but there was nothing about that really grabbed me, despite being a fan of the Guitar Hero, Wipeout, and Donkey Kong Country games. It just didn’t have that certain something that often makes me want to stay up late so I can play just one more level.
In the end, Color Guardians kind of feels like an amalgam of other games, but one that’s more about paying homage that outright theft. And while it’s not addicting or compelling, it is challenging and creative enough to engage fans of the games that inspired it…at least for a while.