Chungking Espresso

Colorbind and the ideal of direct manipulation

Posted in Game Analysis by Simon Ferrari on February 19, 2010

Colorbind is one of those rare iPhone games that would be completely uninteresting with any other interface, yet is an absolute wonder when you start sliding your fingers across the screen. I would recommend watching a child play with construction paper just before starting to play Colorbind, because you’ll instantly be able to feel how close the tactile sensation is to the real thing. It’s kind of like videogame ports of boardgames: you get all the fun of weaving multicolored paper ribbons together without the cleanup or the papercuts.

The mechanics are simple: grab the end of a piece of paper and drag it toward a node; if you need to turn, simply pull the paper tab sideways to fold. A few rules of weaving make the game challenging right off the bat: if a paper strand of a one color, say red, is crossing the node of another, say blue, then the blue strand will have to cross that node vertically to properly eliminate it. Also, one strand can’t fold on top of another, and a strand can’t weave through another that’s been tightly twisted. The puzzle is complete once every node is eliminated.

The closest iPhone game I can think of to this is Chaim Gingold’s MinMe, which is one of the few casual timefillers that I return to again and again whenever I’m on a bus or cannot sleep. Colorbind definitely knocks the king out of his throne, so to speak, because of its many improvements over the “slide to eliminate nodes of like color” formula. In MinMe there is basically always one correct “answer” to the puzzle, while in Colorbind there are usually quite a few different ways to match everything properly. What’s astounding is that, no matter how you solve a puzzle in Colorbind, your solution will always be beautiful. This is positive feedback on the level of chaining a massive combination in Bejeweled or Puzzle Fighter.

Play itself is somewhat contemplative, because the difficulty ramps up rather quickly even on Easy (there are three difficulty levels, by the way). Colorbind will have you twisting your phone or pod around in circles, mirroring your mental struggle to understand how you must twist a particular strand of paper to allow room for another to slide through in the proper way. In this way, the game’s pace is close to my other favorite iPhone game: Zen Bound, with which Colorbind also shares a sparse, almost melancholy soundscape (all you really hear is the sound of crinkling paper).

Finally, the way you progress through the game is incredibly open: as you complete one level, the next level to the right AND to the bottom become accessible. This is how one of the better indies of last year, A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, unlocked levels, and the feeling of freedom and customizability this affordance adds is nothing to take lightly. If you can’t beat a level, you’ll almost always see that there are four or five others that you can try instead. Your literacy with how the paper twists and wraps grows quickly, and within a few minutes you’ll be able to go back to that level and see the answer immediately.

Colorbind makes you feel like an artist, albeit an artist back in elementary school.

Disclosure: App purchased by the reviewer. On sale for $.99 until February 25th.


3 Responses

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  1. Michel said, on February 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Protip: tap outside the menu after solving a level to see the finished pattern. Took me a while to figure this out, and I still wish there was a way to see your solutions at any time without taking a screenshot.

    You also forgot one of the more interesting rules. Strands have two levels of depth which are switched between through corner folding. You can only intersect lines, even one of the same colour, by going over or under.

    Good review. Now I’m off to find a 6 year old kid and ask him if he wants to come play with me.

  2. Michel said, on February 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    er, wait that “rule” might not ever be allowed happen. I might have been thinking of those times my ribbons hit each other head on. I stayed up way too late playing this…

    • Simon Ferrari said, on February 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      Same here; in fact, I kept misspelling the title as Color*blind* on Twitter and in the article. The only time I got it correct was in the title of the post 😛 It was perfect for lazily checking out Eve on a trial account and working on my thesis

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