The incredible story of one emotionally-powered young woman is kept afloat by a serviceable port.
During this year’s E3 presentation, Nintendo announced that Life is Strange: True Colors and Life is Strange Remastered Collection would both be coming to Switch. True Colors was originally intended to come out day and date with versions on other platforms, but it ended up being delayed into December. Fortunately, the narrative-heavy adventure game holds up well enough on Switch, and it’s absolutely a story worth experiencing wherever you can. Protagonist Alex Chen and her new life in small-town Colorado make for a truly heartfelt and emotional journey.
The Life is Strange series has had an interesting development and publication journey of its own since the original debuted in 2015. While all of the games have been published by Square Enix, True Colors is the first to be published as an entire game rather than episodically. It’s also the second to be developed by Deck Nine (along with Before the Storm), whereas the rest of the titles came from Dontnod Entertainment.
True Colors lets players explore the Colorado town of Haven Springs, where Alex Chen has just arrived after an invitation from her brother Gabe. Exploration is more of a side objective, though; the focus is squarely on interacting with folks about town and carrying on with Alex’s story. After being introduced to the other major characters and the town itself, Alex gets a minute to collect herself in Gabe’s apartment above the tavern where he works. It’s an effective opening that eases you into the overall plot and even some of the decisions you’ll have to make.
Much like the TellTale games, such as The Walking Dead and Batman: The TellTale Series, Alex will be put in situations where she needs to make a key decision that will affect the plot of the story. These are made painfully obvious as time stops, the color drains from the scene, and two distinct options are presented. It didn’t feel like there were as many of these very dramatic moments as I might have anticipated, but that’s perhaps because smaller actions that you take throughout the game can also have a noticeable impact on how events play out. Bringing up the menu can indicate both the main objectives needed to progress the story and also side missions that can lead to special interactions that help you learn more about the citizens of Haven Springs. Even if the town itself isn’t that large, it’s filled with more than its share of colorful characters, and it doesn’t take long before you start learning intimate details about them and the powerful emotions impacting them.
Without being specific, there is a major event that takes place at the end of the first chapter (five chapters in total) that essentially sets in motion the rest of the story. What follows is a murder mystery involving a mining corporation (which employs many residents of the town) and the secrets they’re trying to keep buried. That said, Alex doesn’t just play the role of detective; rather, she’s still trying to get acclimated to her new life and the new relationships that have presented themselves. Romantically, there are two partners Alex can choose to pursue: Ryan, a park ranger and son of the tavern owner Jed, and Steph, a DJ and fellow music lover. Both characters are well-written and make for worthy conversation partners, and perhaps more.
The absolute highlight of Life is Strange: True Colors is Alex Chen and the performance of voice actor Erika Mori. The powerful emotions experienced by Alex are expertly portrayed by Mori, who breathes life and realism into the character, making it easy for players to develop a bond with her. Alex also has the ability to see people’s emotions as an aura that shines around them, much like Max (from Life is Strange 1) could manipulate time. In addition to seeing how people are feeling on the inside, Alex can also read their minds to understand why they are experiencing emotions like anger, fear, and sadness. At times, she can even choose to absorb such feelings into herself to quell a situation, but the consequences of such a decision can be major. From the beginning of the game to the end credits, I was fully invested in Alex as a character and resolving the situations she encounters in Haven Springs.
In terms of the Switch port, performance holds up for the most part. There are a number of visual sacrifices that become apparent fairly quickly, though. In addition to object pop-in and 20-30 second load times when entering and exiting buildings, background elements would often shine or glitter in a way that was distracting. Character features would change color, such as hair going from red to brown, between scenes. It was nice to see a stable framerate, especially given the lack of action in the game, but I was annoyed that I had to keep activating the game’s online connection to see how my decisions lined up with other players. I would also get pop-ups about not being connected online, even though my Switch Internet signal itself never dropped. That said, the connection issues are a minor gripe that didn’t impact my experience in a significant way. Overall, the Switch version holds up well enough.
Across its 10-15 hours, Life is Strange: True Colors tells an emotional story of a girl trying to find a new home while also reconciling with both her unique powers and her traumatic past. There isn’t much in the way of puzzle-solving, but intrepid players will enjoy going back to completed chapters and scenes to make new choices and see what happens. It’s easy to miss a conversation or an object with which you can interact, so it’s worth being thorough. There are hidden memories to unlock in each chapter, too. Despite a few abrupt time skips and scene jumps, Alex’s story is one worth hearing; it culminates in a captivating climax, even if the resolution pulls its punches a bit. Color me eager to see more Life is Strange titles come to the Switch in the coming months.