At first blush, Color Guardians doesn't seem like much more than your average endless runner — one more in the currently in the glut currently choking mobile gaming to death. Thankfully, my first impression was mistaken. I'd even go so far as to say that Color Guardians has a chance to be something of a hidden gem on the PlayStation Vita.
The basic mechanics are simple but strong. You goal is to complete each course while collecting as many globs of paint as possible, with your Guardian — colorful creatures who float over a pair of disembodied feet — being able to move between top, middle, and bottom tracks. The twist is that Guardians have to match the color of a paintball in order to collect it, and the same goes for using the springboards scattered throughout each course.
Colors are mapped to one of three face buttons on the controller, which is one reason Color Guardians works better on console and PC than it does on mobile — touchscreens simply don't offer the precision needed for its courses. Obstacles and gaps scroll across the screen at a rapid rate, and you have to be totally locked in to hit all the springboards while slipping through the variously colored barriers. It takes a bit to get the face button configuration down, but once you do, you'll find yourself in something akin to a trance as you continously swap colors while moving up and down on the board. At one point, I likened it to Guitar Hero; and indeed, there is a kind of soothing rhythm to Color Guardians' stages. Once disrupted, your performance can go downhill in a hurry.
In that light, the decision to make Color Guardians an auto-runner makes quite a bit of sense. At one point in its development, forward movement was controlled by the player, but it eventually became apparent that doing so put too much on their plate. Better to make it an auto-runner and let you focus on the rhythm of the stage.
It doesn't actually take too long to get into the flow of Color Guardians, but then the courses start to get devious. First you'll have to get comfortable switching at the right time to hit springboards and grab large paint blobs. Then you'll have to get the hang of barriers, which you have to match to pass through. Once you get comfortable with those, Color Guardians starts to mess with your sense of momentum, introducing arrows that throw you backward onto previously unreachable cliffs, as well as acceleration points that help to avoid enemies who occasionally give chase. Color Guardians' strong fundamenal concepts make it easy to take the levels in many different directions.
Color Guardians is being released on Steam and PlayStation 4 in addition to Vita, but the reason I'm highlighting Sony's handheld in particular is because of how well it works as a mobile game. Levels move are over in a flash, and when you die, you are instantly revived. Nailing a run feels immensely rewarding; and even when you finish a level, you'll feel the urge to go back and complete it in one go for a perfect three star rating. This is the sort of game that can make a long flight or bus ride go by in a hurry.
It's flown under the radar to this point in part because it's being developed by Fair Play Labs — a relatively unknown developer based out of Costa Rica that has been operating since 2003. Color Guardians was conceived at an internal game jam roughly three years ago, where it was voted the best game prototype among the staff. Its rather unassuming graphics belie its sense of rhythm and pace; and while the version I played was on PC, I can't imagine it taxing the Vita hardware too much.
When it arrives on April 21st, I expect it to mostly go unnoticed, as tends to happen to smaller games like these. If you happen to see it on PSN, though, and you're in need of something to play on your Vita, it may well be worth picking up. As a bonus, it'll feature cross-buy and cross-save, so you'll be able to own it on your PS4 as well.
Obviously, my impressions are based on an hour of hands-on time, so take my recommendation for what you will. But I was surprised by how reluctant I was to put it down after smashing through the first eight or nine stages. So give it a try when it comes out later this month — you may be surprised as I was.
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