My three-year-old daughter accompanied me as I clicked my way through much of In Living Colors. No stranger to computer games, my toddler offspring was certain that this matching game, with its giant paintbrush pointer and boldly colored and happy looking little paint blots, was meant for her. Of course, it isn’t meant for toddlers. In fact, the game nearly proved too tricky for her papa.
On the surface, In Living Colors appears to involve little more than joining paint drops of similar color together by dragging a brush through droplets that lie on the same diagonal line on a paint palette. In a twist over traditional match-three games, you can hop over as many non-matching colors as you like to get to a same-shade droplet and change direction as often as necessary to chain together a dozen or more paint globules for higher scores.
The object is to get rid of a set number of each color of blot within a given time limit in order to color in pictures of fantasy animals (and, preferably, to finish before the game environment turns from day to night, which is one of the means by which a player’s performance is rated).
As the game progresses, things become a little thornier. A variety of chaining obstacles – such as monsters and stones – slowly start to turn up in place of blots. And as players earn coins by completing levels they begin to unlock a variety of beneficial bonuses, such as the ability to reshuffle the palette or chain more than one color at a time.
Of course, these sorts of game modifiers are expected and welcome. They help keep the experience fresh. The problem is that they arrive without adequate explanation as to what they are and how they affect play. There is an optional in-game tutorial, but it is far from comprehensive. Worse, the instructions show signs of awkward translation; they are often unclear, and fail to deliver vital information.
Consequently, I sometimes had a hard time figuring things out. I ended up learning the purpose of many of the game’s elements through trial and error. I didn’t fully understand, for example, the purpose of different colored stone obstacles until near the end of the game (for the record, they block chains of droplets that are the same color as the stone). Indeed, there are still a couple of elements I don’t completely understand, such as the means by which one is supposed to get rid of the annoying crystalline blocks that appear and eat up valuable grid space later in the game (I have managed to make them disappear on several occasions, I’m just not sure how I did it).
The poor tutorial problem could have been solved easily enough with a simple glossary of game terms and objects that players could reference in case they missed or misunderstood an instruction or explanation, but none exists. From what I can tell, players can’t even go back to the tutorial lessons they’ve already seen – not even if you restart the level in which they appeared.
However, assuming you don’t mind some self-instruction, In Living Colors can be a lot of fun. I turns out that there is something undeniably satisfying about stringing together an impossibly long, 20 blot chain, or clearing the palette of all droplets of a given color. Despite not understanding every aspect of the game, I found it engaging enough to play for nearly 90 minutes straight during my first session.
Play is broken into three modes: Normal, Hard, and Arcade. Normal mode is composed of 35 levels, which take, on average, about three or four minutes each to complete, assuming you don’t fail (and moderately experienced puzzle game players probably won’t fail very often – at least not until near the end).
Hard mode sends players through the same 35 levels, but allows only a limited number of turns, which makes things a fair bit tougher. In addition to trying to get rid of a set number of blots in each color, you also need to ensure efficiency by creating chains of maximum length. It seemed easy at first, but by the fifth level, I found myself struggling to come in under the turn limit.
Obsessed players could squeeze even more hours from In Living Colors if they take the time to unlock all of the game’s two dozen trophies, which are awarded for achieving certain scores and making chains of specific lengths. You can also spend more time trying to earn enough coins to unlock all of the bonuses available in Normal and Hard modes, which is only possible if you finish all levels before day turns to night (a tall order; I needed all the time I could get—both day and night—to finish the last few levels in Normal mode).
All of these goals, combined with the simple pleasure of chaining blots, makes In Living Colors easy to recommend. A die-hard puzzle fan could get a dozen or more hours of fun from the game. That said, the lack of clear, readily available instructions is frustrating. Puzzle game veterans will likely be able to get the hang of things quickly enough, but sub-par game tutoring isn’t something paying players ought to have to contend with.