The off-brand first-person puzzler your grandma bought by mistake.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You’re locked in the sterile test chambers of an evil corporation taking orders from a mysterious voice and using a weird gun to solve puzzles. While ChromaGun’s actual hook does feel unique and new, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by an immediate feeling of familiarity.
ChromaGun is a game about painting walls, to move balls, to solve puzzles. You hold in your hands a gun which can shoot pellets of three different colors onto blank walls. Floating orbs dotted around the test chambers are magnetically drawn to walls of the same color. Some of these orbs are also aggressive, and will attack you when not being actively pulled to a colored wall. Through a combination of painting walls and seducing orbs with your own alluring body, you’ll need to lure these orbs onto switches in order to open the door to the next chamber. The core mechanics are impressively simple and offer more gameplay than one would expect.
At the start of the game you’re given a gun that can be cycled between the three primary colors red, blue, and yellow. Two of these colors can also be combined on walls to create, purple, orange, and green. However, once a wall has been painted there is no way to undo it. It is therefore very easy to render a puzzle unsolvable, forcing you to restart the test chamber. Perhaps the most interesting element of this magnetic color mechanic is the way in which you can set up multiple vectors of pull on an orb. For example: if dealing with a blue orb, and you paint walls on each side of the room blue, then the orb will float in the middle of the room. Some of the best moments involved setting up elaborate systems of pull to send an orb drifting around corners onto a hard to reach switch. Unfortunately there is little more than those core mechanics. Other than introducing a few new ways to inhibit orb movement, you never gain any substantial new abilities, or even find new ways to use the abilities you have. No matter how good that core idea is, it is unfortunately never really pushed beyond its base incarnation.
Looking back on my experience I quickly realized that I’d seen most of what the game had to offer within the first hour. Even the test chambers themselves exist in a completely stagnant state, with only the occasional out of place ceiling tile or damaged wall to break up the monotony. The story as well seems to exist only to emulate the evil science motif of Portal rather than to tell an actual story. If you go into ChromaGun expecting anything more than a series of puzzles, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’ve lived your life wondering what a combination of Portal and Zelda block puzzles would look like, you’re in luck. From the moment you boot up ChromaGun, its primary influence might as well be plastered on your screen. ChromaGun, really wants to be Portal. There is of course nothing wrong with building off of existing ideas, but ChromaGun’s stringent reliance on Portal’s established formula keeps it from ever evolving beyond it. ChromaGun has to be a game about moving through test chambers, because that’s what Portal is. ChromaGun has to place you at the whim of a crazy, pseudo-friendly corporation because that’s what Portal did. ChromaGun’s underlying mechanic is delightful and extremely interesting, unfortunately rather than building a game around that mechanic, developer Pixel Maniacs opted instead to shove it unceremoniously into a pre-existing game. There is some fun to be had here, but not nearly as much as there ought to be.