Color Zen Review
Posted by Jake Shapiro
Nirvana on the go
Last month we reviewed the Wii U version of Color Zen, a relaxing abstract puzzler in which you match geometric shapes with colours as a soothing electronica soundtrack plays in the background. This week the chilled-out title arrives on 3DS largely intact; it's essentially the same game, shrunk down to the small screen(s). It's the perfect candidate for a 3DS port, as its purely touch-based controls and the puzzles' quick pick-up-and-play style are designed with portable gaming in mind – Color Zen was originally created as an iOS/Android title, after all.
For the most part, everything in our Wii U review applies to this version as well; the 3DS port has the same clever levels, the same striking minimalist aesthetic, and the same drop-dead gorgeous music that steals the show. A helpful tutorial shows you the basic rules of gameplay, and then you're on your own for over a hundred levels of artistic, cerebral shape-based puzzling. Many of the levels resemble abstract geometric art, and there are a few different modes that switch up the play mechanics – most notably the clever "Reflection" mode in which every shape you move is mirrored by a shape on the opposite side of the screen, and you have to manage both sides of the reflection to complete the puzzle.
The only major differences between the two versions come down to the hardware. We noted in our previous review that the puzzles can start to feel repetitive after extended playtime, but in the shorter bursts of gameplay the 3DS lends itself to, this isn't nearly as much of a problem on the handheld – so in that regard, the 3DS version is superior to its home console brethren. In most other departments, however, the Wii U's higher horsepower makes it the definitive iteration.
The first thing you'll notice upon loading up Color Zen on 3DS is that it takes place almost entirely on the touch screen; the upper screen is used solely to display the game's logo and occasional text, like level titles or menu options. This comes partly out of necessity, as all the gameplay is designed for the touch screen and there's not much extraneous data that needs to be shown on a second screen, but the colour palette is so vivid and integral to the experience that it's a shame the upper screen is so dark and bland by comparison.
Revolving around geometric shapes, Color Zen is all about clean straight lines and perfect circles; it's unfair to compare the graphics of a portable system to those of a home console, but naturally the 3DS version doesn't look quite as crisp as its Wii U sibling (which has issues of its own in this regard, as the graphics on the TV screen are smoother than the ones on the GamePad). In addition, the 3DS version of the game has short load times between levels – they're minimal compared to other games, but noticeably longer than the nearly-invisible load times of the Wii U version.
The impressively robust electronic soundtrack, composed by Steve Woodzell, is without a doubt the highlight of Color Zen. You can listen to it on Spotify to hear for yourself, but the low price of admission for the game is worth it just to listen to Woodzell's spacious, calming electronica. Tiny 3DS speakers don't do the music justice, so this is definitely one you'll want to play with headphones on – something you have to do on Wii U as well, as strangely the Wii U version's audio is GamePad-only with no support for TV audio to enjoy the music through your expensive home speaker system. Due to this odd Wii U oversight, both versions are equally competent in the aural department.
As this is a portable port, it can't escape comparisons to the original iOS/Android versions of the game like the Wii U version can. While the eShop uses traditional pricing (buy the game, and you get all the levels), the mobile version is a free-to-play microtransaction-based affair where you get the first handful of levels for free but then you must pay for additional content. Which portable iteration is better largely depends on which payment structure you prefer – at the very least, if you're on the fence about Color Zen you can try the free levels on your phone first and then purchase the full game on 3DS if you like what you see.
Color Zen is the same low price on both Wii U and 3DS; if you own both consoles, the Wii U version's slightly crisper visuals make it the version to own, but this 3DS iteration is a solid product in its own right. The pick-up-and-play nature of 3DS gaming lends itself to the game's quick levels even better than Wii U does, and keeps it from getting boring – if you're a fan of puzzles, electronica, or just want something to relax with after a long day of work, Color Zen is a worthy investment.