Anyone who's ever fallen in love with a rough-and-tumble beauty from the wrong side of the tracks will understand the passionate heart of game developer Tatsuya Koyama. His creation Monochro Observer is a tragic, lovely little puzzle game about two people from opposite sides of the visual spectrum, learning to work together towards a common goal, to finally taste the forbidden love that sparks between the deepest shadow and the shiniest, twinkliest, luminescent-i-est-iest light.
Your goal for 20 brain-teasing levels is to join these star-crossed children of fate by bringing them to the flashing gray exit. The catch is that the black person can only move in the light world, and the white person only in the dark. Each character has the ability to create or destroy blocks of the opposite color. A block that behaves like a wall or a stepping stone in one world acts as a pathway in the other.
You may recognize the general idea from Yin Yang or Sean Howard's blog, but this is much more of a puzzle game and much less of a platformer. There's not even a jump button; your avatars can only climb the height of a single block.
Switch control between the two lead characters with [Shift], and walk with the [Arrow Keys]. To create or destroy a platform at your feet, press [Z], which works so long as the space isn't already occupied by a two-tone solid wall. The other controls are the hotkeys for the user interface. [X] undoes the last move you made, and can take you all the way back to the beginning of the level, one step at a time (very useful). Restart the level immediately with [C], return to the stage select with [S], and restart the entire game with . Turn the music on or off with [M].
You see where it says [Shift + Del] at the bottom of the stage select screen? That evil combination of keys erases all your progress. I have sacrificed a percentage of my life so you don't have to. Normally, the game remembers your progress between play sessions.
Analysis: I should mention that the developer didn't actually put anything in Monochro Observer to indicate romantic undertones, but there's something about the delicate presentation that makes me want to don my Exaggerational Interpreting Hat. Just look at those little munchkins, staring at each other across the impassable divide between worlds. Lonesome. Longing. The fire of passion smoldering in their eyes…okay, I'll stop.
But I don't have much to say about the actual design of the game. It's a good set of puzzles. They thoroughly explore the central idea, rewarding and challenging in more-or-less ideal balance. It's helpful to think through the solutions, but if you are better with practice than theory, the forgiving Undo Button lets you fart around as much as you'd like without penalty.
It's just interesting that such a simple concept, built with a traditional eye for game design, can be so evocative. Although the direction is ambiguous, the game still takes you somewhere, just by making strong choices with the music and graphics, and by having a curious title. I can't touch you, but I'm observing you, you monochromatic thing from another realm of being. What are you feeling? What is the difference between us? What will happen if we cooperate? Where will that exit take us, and is it worth the struggle to get there? Are you single? What do your lips taste like? Do they taste like cherries? All I want is delicious smooches! Why won't you loooove meeeee???
Um…sorry about that. Go enjoy some puzzles. I'll be okay.