Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: The 1950s are grim and desolate in Monochroma
Nowhere Studios is hoping to create something special with its upcoming puzzle-platformer Monochroma. The game, which takes cues from Limbo and Ico, features a chilling black-and-white aesthetic and mind-teasing challenges. I had the opportunity to interview Nowhere in a past edition of the Indie Spotlight, gathering a great deal of insight on the upcoming project. After checking out a preview build of Monochroma for myself, I was able to really get a feel for what the chilling experience hopes to accomplish. Despite some rough edges, it definitely seems like Nowhere can deliver a potentially great puzzle-platformer.
You take on the role of the protector in Monochroma. It's up to you to guide the protagonist's little brother, who happens to be afraid of the dark. You don't necessarily need to protect the kid from onslaughts of enemies, so this isn't the typical (and oftentimes vastly annoying) protect-the-mind-numbingly-stupid-NPC formula. Instead, you must carry your little brother around on your back and transport him to safety yourself.
Your movement varies depending on whether you're carrying your brother. Obviously, if you've got him hoisted on your back, you won't be able to run very fast or jump all that high. When you set him down, however, your speed and jump height increase considerably. Sometimes you need to jump up to a ladder or ledge, so carrying your brother at all times isn't an option. Environments are dimly lit, and, because the little dude isn't particularly fond of the dark, you need to place him in a spot where there's plenty of shining light.
Despite this companion mechanic, Monochroma isn't entirely unlike Limbo. In fact, a lot of the puzzles reminded me of the cherished puzzle-platformer from developer Playdead. Thankfully, the puzzles in Limbo were really great, so the fact that this unrelated project is eerily reminiscent of that endeavor isn't exactly a bad thing.
Along the way you must hit switches, swing from ropes, climb ladders, and move crates. As a singular element, these actions could seem very unappealing, but when you string them all together you can get some truly robust and complex puzzles. There were a few head-scratching instances where I was actually stumped for a couple of minutes at a time as I tried to figure out how to open up a massive door or turn on a light for the younger brother. Nothing was ever overly confusing, though, so I never found myself getting frustrated or feeling the urge to quit in the middle of the demo.
Visually, Monochroma certainly has a Limbo-esque look to it. There are some notable differences that make it stand out on its own, though. For starters, aside from all of the black, white, and gray, you also get some bold red throughout. Surprisingly, the implementation of this single hue helps to create a nuanced visual appearance for Monochroma. It's all quite subtle, too, and while the red is purposefully limited, it really stands out, and seeing your character's red scarf or signs with slight hints of red is very much aesthetically appealing.
The setting in Monochroma also differs largely from Limbo. The game takes place in an alternate 1950s era where industrialism is a rampant cultural norm and society is relegated to an unpleasant lifestyle. You've got cold factories and sterile warehouses, but there are also eerie open spaces such as farms with windmills that spin ever so slowly in the background and emotionless scarecrows providing ominous feelings of loneliness. Topping off the décor in one particular area is a lone tire swing, tragically reminiscent of a world that possibly breathed happy, innocent life at some point.
The demo build I played struggled with a few occasional performance issues, and the animations weren't as smooth as they could've been. That said, these issues weren't too overbearing and hardly soiled the good time I had playing. Monochroma wants to create a foggy, surreal world and tell a story about companionship and brotherhood within that setting, all the while throwing tough puzzles your way. Thus far, the game's undoubtedly on the right track, and I'm excited to see Nowhere refine the current build and continue to move forward with this endeavor. If you're a fan of the genre, Limbo, or artistically brooding experiences, you should be excited, too.
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