Given how important graphics are to video games, it’s odd how infrequent the colors of those graphics are used as a mechanic. With the exception of puzzles games, colors are usually just used as visual clues; red means “this thing explodes,” and so on. But that’s not the case for the creative and adorable 2D, side-scrolling, puzzling platformer Hue (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Vita, PC via Steam), in which you change the world you’re in by changing its colors.
In Hue, as in so many platformers, your objective is to save someone important to you. Or to Hue, as the case may be, since it’s Hue’s mommy you’re trying to find. So you set out to run, jump, and climb your way through a mostly monochromatic world that will soon, with your help, be getting a lot more colorful.
At its core, Hue is a fairly typical two-dimensional, side-scrolling platformer. You run, you jump, and you hope you’ve timed it right so you don’t land on a floor made of spikes.
But what makes Hue different — and clever, and inventive — is that as you proceed, you use colors in a color wheel to change the background of whatever room you’re in. This makes anything of that color disappear, and not just into the background, it disappears for real. Well, until you change colors and bring it back.
For instance, if the only way forward is through a blue brick wall, you simply use the color wheel to change the background to blue, the blue brick wall disappears, and you can walk right past it like it’s not even there because, well, it isn’t. But if you then change the color wheel to orange, the blue wall will reappear. And you can go back and forth like that all you want.
Not surprisingly, things get more complicated in Hue as you get more colors. Consider the two screenshots below. In the former, which is how the room looks when you first arrive, you can’t go anywhere without falling into or hitting your head on some spikes. So, you change the color to blue, and look, now you can walk to the next platform, at which point you can switch to purple to reveal the next platform, and so on until you get to the other side.
Where things get really tricky in Hue is when you have to change colors while you’re moving. In the room just after the one I detailed in the previous paragraph, you get to a room with a large spiked floor. To get past it, you have to switch from one color to another in mid-air to make sure the purple or blue box is there when you land.
Further complicating matters, time doesn’t stop when you move the right thumbstick to pull up the color wheel, it just slows to a crawl. Which looks cool, like you’re a bad ass in an action movie who’s walking away from an explosion, but it also means you can’t just hang out in mid-air forever, trying to decide which color to pick.
You also have to bear in mind that even if you know something is there, you can’t interact with it if it’s the wrong color. If a door is only visible when the background is blue, going to that spot and pushing up on the thumbstick, which would normally send you through the door and into the next room, will do nothing.
Similarly, you can’t switch to a color when standing in a spot where something of that color is located. If there’s a blue box where you’re standing, you can’t switch to a color that would bring up the blue box.
Suffice it to say, Hue uses this color mechanic to great effect, as well as to great complexity when you get to the point where your color wheel is full, or even just has more than two colors available. As a result, Hue, like all great puzzling platformers, is as much a challenge to your problem solving abilities as it is to your reflexes. Especially in the later levels, which practically require an MBA in Fine Arts to complete.
While the visuals are the centerpiece of Hue, the game is also to be commended for its audio. Not only is the voice actress who plays your mom quite exceptional — she really did make me believe she had become an impossible color — but the game’s jazz score is both a perfect complement to the gameplay and good music on its own.
The makers of Hue should also be commended for including a colorblind option. What this does is assign a color-specific icon, which appears in any of the items of that color. So if a brick wall is blue, in the colorblind mode it will be blue and have a crescent moon.
The thing is, while Hue is clever and adorable, it’s not flawless. When you begin, the game doesn’t do a great job explaining the controls. Which isn’t that big of a deal; anyone who’s played a platformer will know you jump when you hit the “X” button on the PlayStation controller or the “A” button on the Xbox’s. But with graphics that look hand-drawn, and a young boy for a hero, Hue might be some kid’s first platformer, and we wouldn’t want it to be their last because the game can’t be bothered to tell them to “hit ‘X’ to jump.”
In the end, Hue is a very clever and fun platformer, one that challenges your ability to reason as much as it does your ability to hit a button at just the right time. And if you’ll pardon the bad wordplay, I think Hue will enjoy it as much as I did.