Innovation is essential when it comes to certain (if not most) game genres. While games like arcade-fighters live and die by sticking to a well-established formula, puzzle-platformers need to introduce something new to truly be considered a worthwhile experience. Games can of course be innovative in a number of ways, such as aesthetics and storytelling, but the most important aspect to be inventive in has to be the gameplay. Great puzzle games strive to find new ways to stretch our minds and ability to solve unique sets of problems. Great platformers create ways to assess our control, whether it be of speed, accuracy, patience, and so on. Blended together, they should make an excellent test of imaginative association, memory, and all-around mental discipline…that is, if the people that create them know what they’re doing.
In the case of Hue, well let’s just say someone must’ve done something right! Starting with the aesthetics, Hue is a very sharp and beautiful game. What I mean by that is not that the game is some sort of jaw-dropping visual marvel, but rather its elegance comes from its finely-crafted simplicity. Shapes are well-defined, animations are smooth as silk, and the overall design is pleasantly cartoony. The black foreground and character models are delightful constants placed against the variables of color, and the transparent lines used to illustrate them make for a nice finishing touch. Soft piano music sets a somber and reflective tone for the world, one that never feels out of place or too repetitive. Combined, the superb visual and sound design make this an enjoyable game to watch.
Next comes the story which is expressed through letters you find throughout the game. Your journey is one of finding your mother, or at least finding out what’s happened to her. Her excellently voiced notes give you a recollection of her work as a scientist: studies related to our perception of color. The writing is certainly strong enough to warrant plenty of eagerness in finding out what happens next, but I do have a few little gripes about how these pieces of narrative are doled out. For one thing, it begins to feel a bit sparser during the second half of the game, but that may just be due to the difficulty of the game increasing, harder puzzles making it take longer to reach the next letter. Another issue is the fact that these chunks of story are always followed by a long, fairly empty corridor for you to run through as the dialogue plays out. I suppose that at least the corridors ensure you won’t be distracted by puzzles when trying to listen to the voice acting.
Now onto the most important part: the gameplay. When it comes to puzzle-platforming, Hue definitely leans more on the methodical puzzle-solving side, rather than on platforming. You don’t need to be quick at all to play this game, as activating the color wheel automatically slows down time. When the game progresses, you add and eventually fill this color wheel, using it to determine the color of the background. The interesting thing about this mechanic is that anything in the foreground that matches the color of the background will disappear, visually and physically. You’re expected to use this in a wide variety of ways and the puzzles tend to evolve, not from the addition of another color, but from new color-changing gameplay elements and hazards. There doesn’t seemed to be any imposed meaning of the colors once they’re obtained, they’re simply there to expand the amount of color switches you’ll need to do in each puzzle.
Boxes, lasers, paint, and other things gradually get introduced alongside obtaining new colors, and stacked together these things pose quite an innovative challenge. While switch-based maneuvering isn’t entirely new to the genre, never before has it made so much visual sense, and altogether feels like something unique to wrap one’s mind around. Most of the stages are reliant on positioning and very rudimentary timing and so the game doesn’t offer much of a challenge when it comes to platforming. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, the game is still really enjoyable, but it does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity.
One last note, this time about the game’s performance. For the most part it ran without a hitch but by the end of the game, and this may just have been my Vita’s fault, the final stage was totally bugged. An obstacle that’s meant to fall when walked under fails to trigger, and it’s absolutely integral to the completion of the puzzle and progressing forward. After checking forums, trophy pings and checking with a couple of other reviewers, it seems like this isn’t a common issue and the game certainly is beatable (although the trophy list is crossed with PS4 so I can’t tell if the majority of other people earned this trophy on the PS Vita or PS4 version of the game). Much to my dismay, I couldn’t beat the game on the Vita alone, so just consider this a “buyer beware”.
One very disappointing technical hiccup aside, Hue is a sleek and smart puzzle-platformer with great presentation across the board. It looks good, feels good, tells a gripping story and manages to challenge but not frustrate the hell out of me with its puzzles. Almost undoubtedly a prime candidate to add to one’s collection. It also comes with a colorblind mode for those that would need it.