Hue is one of those games you're surprised hasn't already been made. Its central concept sounds a little daunting at first, but developers Fiddlesticks implement it so well that it only ever feels organic in action.
As Hue, a young boy searching for his mother in a monotone setting, the player discovers a magical ring that allows him to introduce colour to his 2D world. Hue can also change that colour, an ability that acts as the basis for the game's puzzling elements.
Changing the background colour reveals or hides certain objects. In an early puzzle, the player must organise three crates so they're staggered and make it possible to jump up to an elevated position. An orange crate might need to be pushed past a blue one, so the player has to make the background blue to make the obstacle disappear and push the orange crate into position.
This core mechanic grows only with the addition of new colours and objects. Later there are balloons suspending crates in the air, lethal coloured lasers and nozzles spraying paint on moving platforms, making, in the time-honoured tradition of 2D platformers, timing and speed more crucial.
These puzzles – segmented into rooms – are well-paced, escalating in difficulty nicely with only one or two spikes late on. Starting off simply, they eventually require a degree of planning. There are great puzzles here, some that even subvert genre expectations (such as having to run through objects you've made invisible rather than instinctively jumping over them) but they only get really difficult with the late introduction of certain environmental elements. The game does well to prepare players for those new facets of the game world, but their inclusion is a sign of the original concept being stretched.
Switching colours is handled with the right stick. Push it out in any direction and time slows, revealing the changes that will be made should the player let go of the stick once a colour is selected. This works smoothly until the player must switch quickly and remember the location of each colour. This can get quite finicky when coupled with that urgency required of some puzzles.
The concept dictates the art style of course, which uses black to cast the character and constant elements of the environment like stairs, ladders, floors, ceilings and certain platforms. While not exactly a timeless aesthetic, it is a stark and simple way of framing the colour-switching gameplay well. If there's a problem with the game's art, it's how hard it often is to distinguish between the purple and pink shades. If that's too much of a problem though, there is a colour-blind mode that overlays each colour with a unique symbol.
Colour is more than a mechanic in Hue, it's also at the root of a story about perception and regret that often floats into philosophical pondering but manages not to grate with what could easily have been pretentious. This is thanks to the excellent narration of Anna Acton, who plays Hue's mother: a scientist who discovered colour in a monotone world and created the ring that allows Hue to change the world around him.
The story is gently engaging but enthusiasm is hard to maintain during a drawn-out ending following a point where the game appears to reach a natural conclusion as Hue travels to a new area. The game continues however, for longer than you expect, and as the difficulty of the puzzles escalates in kind it becomes a little frustrating.
Like so many indie platformers before it, Hue takes a great core concept and turns it into an admirably inventive game buoyed by some vivid design, a genteel story and a lovely score. That core concept doesn't stretch quite as far as the developers would like to think, but if you like puzzle platforming then Hue is a game that you should certainly pick up.
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