By: David Tavernier
Monochroma is a new indie side-scroller where story and atmosphere are put first. Rather than telling its story overtly through cut scenes and dialogue bubbles, however, Monochroma allows its environments and character interactions to make the player feel emotions. This is the story of a pair of brothers who must undertake a lengthy journey to stop an evil villain.
At first glance, this plot device seems like a cliché, but it is the precise manner in which the story is told through detailed environments and rich musical score that makes itunique. Well, is this brotherly journey worth taking? Let’s analyze the game’s qualities in order to find out.
One of the main failing points of Monochroma is its clunky controls. The main character looks and feels like he’s wearing clown shoes, and there are many times where you will fail a jump because his jumping distance and height seem lethargic. In fact, everything he does seems to be enacted a bit in slow motion.
This means the game’s puzzles, which appear very simple, become overly difficult as it often requires you to time your jumps perfectly, and this makes the game’s challenges feel cheesy as opposed to having honest difficulty. One of the game’s primary mechanics, lugging around your little brother on your back, makes things even worse with the already small jumping distance becoming even smaller for lengthy parts of the game. It’s definitely the low point of the game.
Easily the best parts of Monochroma are its visuals and sounds. The game is composed almost entirely of grays, whites, blacks and reds, which gives it a distinctive dark and dingy atmosphere. You get the sensation that a dark shroud has fallen over the land, and that by trudging through the game’s dark and depressing environments you’re trying to escape to a more bright and colorful future.
You start the game on a small farm, and after a while your little brother falls through the roof of the house and you start on your journey together, trekking from your family farm to the city, through a factory, and finally up to a giant zeppelin in the sky.
The music and background sound effects are expertly composed, and they fittingly accompany the changing scenery of each environment. So as you progress through the game you are treated to new feasts for the eyes and ears.
One problem with the visuals, however, is that sometimes the lighting in the game is too dark for you to see the important structures in the environment that compose the game’s puzzles. At one point I became stuck in a puzzle due to the darkness of the environment hiding an important gap that I had to squeeze through — and this was with the game set to its highest brightness.
So you may have to adjust your monitor’s brightness level in order to see all the important pieces of puzzles accurately. However, this only caused me trouble once or twice in the game. Still, the option to increase the game’s brightness to a higher maximum level in-game would have been a welcome addition.
Monochroma‘s gameplay becomes formulaic and monotonous after a while. Most of the puzzles feel very similar to each other. As said before, you have to lug your younger sibling around (for some unknown reason), and this makes it so that you have reduced jumping height when carrying him.
However, there are little spotlights scattered about the game where you can put your sibling down (because he is afraid of the dark) for a while in order to complete a puzzle. So almost all the puzzles have a very specific blueprint.
First, you put your brother down so you can jump up to a high ledge that is inaccessible while you are holding him. Then you move a switch or tug a rope to make a ledge more accessible to jumping while you are holding your little brother. Then you pick him up and jump to the now lower ledge and move on to the next puzzle.
This never really changes throughout the game, so the gameplay inevitably becomes stale over time. This isn’t to say that Monochroma is completely unenjoyable. There are times where the puzzles can be quite fun. The repetition of using the same mechanics over and over can be somewhat tiresome, though.
Should you pick up Monochroma? The answer lies in whether or not you mind dealing with clunky controls and repetitive puzzles in order to experience the joys of its palpable atmosphere and storytelling. At $19.99, the game’s price seems reasonable, so if you don’t mind a little style over substance you can feel good about pulling the trigger.