Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Hue was not on my radar, a game I had never seen a trailer for or even heard of. That all changed with a single GIF — showcasing a brief few seconds of gameplay — from the official PlayStation Twitter account. Yes, a GIF was able to sell me on a game, because in just a few precious seconds, Hue showcased both the amazing simplicity and the potential for rewarding complexity in that the puzzle-platformer offers. Delightfully, Hue manages to deliver on all the promise of that GIF, presenting a gameplay experience that I will remain intrigued and infatuated with for a long time to come, despite the other elements of the game failing to impress.
Hue is a puzzle-platformer and the first game from developer Fiddlesticks. You play as the titular young boy Hue, waking up to a dull world soaked in black and grey tones. The depressing tone is amplified when you learn that Hue’s mother is missing and that she has left behind a trail of letters for him to follow. Each letter you locate rewards you with beautiful narration from Anna Acton (Rochelle Barratt – The Bill, Emma Summerhayes – EastEnders, Additional Voices – Star Wars Battlefront), telling a moderately somber tale of how Hue’s mother created a device known as the Colour Wheel, in an attempt to bring colour to the black and grey world. As part of her research, she becomes ‘un-visible’ to anyone who can only see in tones of grey. Her letters convey the deep sorrow and concern she feels for effectively abandoning Hue, while also conveying the hope and beauty she found in the colours she discovered. Acton regales the lines in softly spoken, soothing tones, as if reading a bedtime story, and yet within these soft tones, she is able to convey a range of emotions; from devastating desperation to jubilant celebration. However, don’t expect a particularly memorable tale; Hue has little in the way of twists and turns, and for the all the narrative mystique, the conclusion is mundane and safe.
Despite the unsatisfactory narrative, Hue attempts to be more than just a trite tale of a young boy’s heartbreaking search for his lost mother. Hue intriguingly attempts to engage the player with more philosophical questions; such as talking about the nature of colour and perception, questioning what potentially exists in our reality that we cannot see, if our existence is true reality, and pondering classical philosophical questions such as if a tree in a forest is not being observed does it exist? For the first half of Hue these philosophical question intrigued me, and I began to eagerly anticipate how the game would answer them. Regrettably, as I progressed through Hue’s five-hour adventure, it became devastatingly clear that beyond simply enticing us with these questions, Fiddlesticks had no intention of providing any further commentary – yet alone satisfying theories or answers. While Hue’s search for his mother may be the crux of the game’s narrative, it was the exploration of these philosophical concepts that kept willing me towards the next letter, and which gave Hue the potential to stand out in an extremely crowded genre.
Despite the diminishing returns of Hues’s narrative, the phenomenal gameplay was reason enough to continue. It revolves around the simple concept of changing a level’s background colour, which causes objects to appear or disappear. Let’s say there is a blue barrier blocking your way forward; you could turn the background of the level blue, making the barrier “disappear” into said background. Alternatively, the blue barrier may actually be a moveable crate that you need to jump on in order to access a higher platform, in which case you will need to change the background colour to anything but blue in order to push and jump onto the crate.
At first you do not have access to the colour wheel, instead having to complete a series of platforming levels that introduce you to the game’s most basic mechanics. From there you will unlock your first colour, and be asked to complete a series of simple challenges that in turn introduce you to the basic concepts of changing the colour of the world’s background. Shortly after a second colour is added, then a third. There are a number of quite complex puzzles that Fiddlesticks creates using just these simple mechanics, such as having to move crates ‘through’ other crates by fading them into the background, or not being able to change to certain colours in certain places, (because doing so would effectively spawn a block on your character and kill him). In addition to introducing new colours to the colour wheel – for a total of eight – with each new area, Fiddlesticks also introduces a range of additional mechanics, such as blocks that fall down when you stand under them or ones that crumble when you stand on them, to lasers beams that both disintegrate you if the touch them and control mechanisms within the levels. None of these mechanics are particularly, with similar concepts displayed in a number of platformers. However, Fiddlesticks uses their Colour Wheel mechanic to give familiar concepts added complexity.
You may be familiar with the concept of the falling block, but what about making said block ‘disappear’ before it hits you, jumping above it, and then making it ‘reappear’ so that you can use it as a lift when it goes back up? It is this unique take on familiar and potentially tired mechanics that keeps Hue not just fresh, but constantly captivating—it made me think about problems in a way I never had before. One other important thing to note here is that the block doesn’t actually disappear, but by changing its colour so that you can no longer see it, it stops existing in your world. That’s not to say that the block stops existing altogether, but rather that the block is now in a different ‘plane of existence’ to you. The aforementioned philosophical quandaries of Hue are not just a part of the game’s narrative, but also its gameplay, hence why the lack of a satisfying conclusion to these questions is all the more frustrating.
Hue takes many traditional game concepts and turns them on their head. There’s the aforementioned falling block, making chasing boulders disappear so they don’t squash you, making obstacles blocking your path reappear to protect you from potential threats, and making lasers appear and disappear. These attempts to change the way you think about traditional mechanics are extremely satisfying, but occasionally they can work against the game. For instance, there are certain platforming sections where between jumping between one platform and the next you will need to change colours to make a platform appear. As you activate the colour wheel every potential block, platform crate etc. is revealed, and often in attempt to make the platform I desired appear, I would select the colour that would match the platform – resulting in the platform disappearing, and me plummeting to my death. As I played more of Hue these mishaps occurred less frequently, but nevertheless plagued me throughout my play-through. This issue is not helped by the fact that both the yellow and lime, and purple and pink colour are almost indistinguishable from each other (and next to each other on the colour wheel!), resulting in me choosing for example lime, when instead I believed I was choosing yellow.
Hue is a game that wants you to keep moving forward, never making any platforming section deliberately difficult or puzzle offensively obtuse. The game is forgiving enough that potential criticisms about occasionally finicky controls or the ‘floatiness’ of jumping are subverted, as pinpoint accuracy is seldom (if ever) required. Another thoughtful element of Hue’s design is that no puzzle can be broken, meaning there is no reason to reset. As such, you can keep simply trying and trying until the solution pops (which admittedly can sometimes result in you brute forcing through a section, even if you did not intend to). Plus, every puzzle only has one solution and you are encouraged to keep trying until the solution becomes clear. Knowing that there is only one solution means that you can compartmentalise the problem, completing only the most immediate element of the solution, and hoping the rest will follow suite. In the final area, however, Fiddlesticks inexplicably removes the safeguard of being unable to break a puzzle and thus makes them infinitely more frustrating. A fundamental change this late in the game feels like Fiddlesticks pulling the rug out from under you, in an adolescent attempt to keep you from completing their game!
There are six areas to Hue, with each focusing on one or two new mechanics and colours. As such, you are normally never tasked with overtly complex puzzles that introduce an unmanageable number of new mechanics at once – although later areas will make use of several mechanics from previous areas to create sufficiently complex puzzles. Normally the art style and music attempt to reflect the new mechanics introduced in each area, to give them a unique feel. However, both art style and music fail to create this sense of uniqueness, with each area blending into the next. The art style itself focuses on contrasting black against the vivid colours of the background and foreground objects, while maintaining a minimalist and simplistic design to prevent distraction from the tasks at hand. The music is likewise minimalist and simplistic, focusing mostly on lightly textured piano work, with some thin accompaniments, but is extremely forgettable despite being overly repetitious.
But while Hue’s gameplay offerings are stunning, there simply isn’t enough content to justify the purchase on purely a gameplay level. While I don’t regret my purchase of Hue, when compared to other gameplay-focused puzzle platformers in the same price range, there is a stark contrast in content, and some may therefore argue ‘value’. As such, if you are contemplating purchasing Hue, do so knowing that the bulk of the game’s appeal lies in experimenting with the mechanics on offer, rather than utilising said mechanics across an extensive catalogue of levels. A tight, engaging narrative might excuse the fewer number of levels, as has been the case with a number of its peers in the genre, but as I discussed above, the narrative fails to accomplish any sense of satisfaction.
For all of Hue’s weaknesses, it’s exemplary mechanical concept coupled with excellent level design has left me in a state of infatuation. I love the gameplay of Hue, and after completing the game I was earning for more levels. If all you are looking for is a great gameplay experience, Hue offers that in spades. But the sheer number of Indie games attempting to deliver a mix of simple yet addictive gameplay, coupled with a minimalist art style and emotional narrative has resulted in a crowded genre. Addictive gameplay is no longer enough, and the bar of excellence is sadly a foot above what Hue is able to achieve. I want to sing praises of Hue from the rooftop, but I’m weighed down by the game’s many flaws, and as much as I want to, I can’t ignore them. As such, Hue is a an adequately okay game, with the potential for so much more.