Color Zen Review
Posted by Jake Shapiro
Passes with flying colours
If you enjoyed Abyss earlier this month and you're thirsting for another relaxing, atmospheric Wii U eShop title with a smooth electronic soundtrack, Color Zen is exactly what you're looking for. It's a puzzle game with no time limit or scoring system: you simply match colours and unwind. The iOS/Android success-story has finally arrived on Wii U, and unlike many recent mobile ports to Nintendo consoles Color Zen is a joy to play. While Abyss' mesmerising aesthetics juxtaposed its stressful control scheme, Color Zen doesn't care how long you take to do anything, so you can play it at your leisure whether you're a hardcore puzzle fanatic or a casual observer with little gaming experience.
Color Zen utilises a minimalist approach in every aspect of the game, right down to the textless menu screens that feature icons for all your options. With a striking abstract art style of geometric shapes, the goal of each level is to connect objects of the same colour to make the whole screen turn the colour indicated in the background – it sounds simple enough, but the puzzles get incredibly complex as it goes on. Extra factors are added like white shapes that can take on any colour, black shapes that get rid of other colours, and dotted lines that can shield shapes from changing colour, but none of these complicate the experience enough to stop Color Zen from being a relaxing diversion. To counter the extreme difficulty of some later puzzles, Color Zen is easy to retry over and over again; each level is very short, and you can reset everything at the touch of a button without any sort of penalty.
While the aforementioned Abyss sported only a handful of songs, Color Zen's gorgeous electronic musical accompaniment features a wide variety of tracks that have proven so popular with the game's iOS/Android fans that you can stream or purchase the entire soundtrack from Large Animal's website. The site describes the music as "16 'reverby downtempo' headphone jams suitable for meditation," but perhaps because of this intended headphone usage the music in the game plays only through the GamePad – your TV will play sound effects, but no music. This seems like an easily-patched oversight, but it's a bummer that even if you have a great home entertainment speaker system, you're out of luck with Color Zen's luscious grooves for now. Just plug in your headphones and enjoy.
Everything in Color Zen is controlled with the GamePad's touch screen, with no use for buttons. Objects don't move quite as quickly as your stylus movements, which seems like a negative until you get deeper into the game and realise it's because there are some physics-based puzzles where you must flick objects in a certain direction and use their momentum to solve the level. Occasionally the lack of button control gets in the way as pausing the game by quickly double-tapping the edge of the screen doesn't always work as well as it should, but since there's never anything time-sensitive gameplay to worry about it's not a huge hassle. The gameplay is deceptively simple, with nuances you won't discover until you're hours into the experience.
The TV monitor and GamePad display all the same information, which allows for easy off-TV play; it would've been nice to add a Wii Remote control option, but for such a budget-priced game this isn't by any means a deal breaker. The big difference between the GamePad and TV is in the visual department: colours and shapes appear much more vivid and smooth on the TV screen than on the GamePad, so despite the off-TV option you'll want to appreciate Color Zen on your television. Aside from presenting puzzles for the player to solve, each level is like a work of art, resembling the abstract shapes of mountain ranges and sunsets, so it's a joy simply to watch the game in motion.
There's no multiplayer or online play in Color Zen; instead, you get four lengthy single-player modes to choose from. The first is "Classic," 120 levels where you'll learn the gameplay basics and form all sorts of geometric artistry. The next is "Reflection," another 120 puzzles where the movements you make with shapes on one half of the screen affect the movement of shapes on the other half. This is perhaps the most ingenious mode in the game, with logic puzzles that would make you pull your hair out... if the music weren't so groovy. There's also the 120-level "Serenity" mode that features more curved and teardrop shapes, and the 100-level "Nature" mode which stars more boxy puzzles and hexagons galore. These last two modes aren't really different enough from Classic to warrant their own sections, but they're clever puzzles nonetheless.
It's obvious that Color Zen was originally designed as a mobile game, as it's intended for short gaming sessions – playing for more than 20 minutes or so can start to drag on and feel repetitive, but this meaty package ensures you'll have puzzles to solve for hours and hours in short gameplay bursts.
With 460 levels, there's plenty of value on offer. A minimalist game with fittingly bright colours and a luscious electronic soundtrack, Color Zen prioritises relaxation over fast-paced action, but be prepared for some brain-melting challenges later on. Color Zen is an unconventionally meaty, in-depth experience for such a low-budget eShop title, let alone a port from a mobile game. Playing for extended sittings can get repetitive as there's not a ton of variety between the modes (aside from the super-challenging Reflection mode), but if you limit yourself to short sessions this remains fresh and fun. If you appreciate clever puzzle design and want a stress-free game to wind down with after a long day of work, this is for you.