Game review: Hue – a colourful experiment worth experiencing
The basic principle of this game is quite dry but there’s beauty in Hue’s execution
Imagine a pre-eminent expert on the science of colour vision has lived her entire life in a black-and-white room. She has never seen colour for herself, but she has complete knowledge of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that make it possible. When she is released from her prison and first sees a blue sky, doesn’t she nevertheless learn something new?
The philosopher Frank Jackson once used this thought experiment to counter the notion that the world is entirely physical. Hue (for PC, Steam and Xbox One) is an abstraction of this knowledge argument, electing to answer the question, “What does a person learn when they see colour for the first time?” with, “How to solve a lot of puzzles”.
Hue is a boy following in the footsteps of his mother, a scientist who escaped a greyscale life by inventing a ring called the Annular Spectrum that allows not just perception of colour but also alteration. Here, then, is the core interaction by which Hue circumvents the obstacles that lie between him and his missing mother: as he collects differently coloured segments of the ring, he can change the background of the 2D world to make objects of the same colour disappear.
In Hue, out of sight is more than out of mind. Your first colour segment is sky blue, your first task to rescue a miner trapped behind some sky-blue rubble. Match the background of the cave, and the rubble is gone. The challenge, of course, is that objects reappear if you change the background again.
Solving puzzles in Hue is a case of erasing obstacles one colour at a time so that you can move them around. Need that orange box to be on the other side of the pink one? Just turn the background pink, drag your orange box across the level, and switch back to blue to see the results.
Of course, this is only possible in a minimal 2D world. But despite its limited colour palette and blocky levels, Hue looks and feels charming. Hue himself is a black stencil, outlined in whatever the current colour of the background. The sea is thick white waves, the caves offer the occasional silhouetted tuft of grass, and rolling boulders are followed by puffs of white-swirled dust.
Explain the basic principle of Hue and it sounds quite dry, but the designers have managed to draw some interesting ideas from the core interaction. All the usual tropes of a platformer have a new dimension. A row of spikes topped with crates placed one jump apart becomes more challenging when each time you change the background every other crate disappears. Climbing a slope against a constant stream of boulders feels slightly more stressful when you can’t jump over them but must keep switching to make each one invisible just before collision. Platforms that crumble beneath you are much more precarious when you have to bring them into existence before you land.
For the first part of the game, your motivation is to collect all eight colours, each allowing you access to a new area and bringing Hue closer to his mother.
Unfortunately, quite a few of the later puzzles rely on reaction times alongside forward planning, and since they’re often bigger than those earlier in the game, it’s far more frustrating to have to restart because of a mistimed jump-and-switch or accidental misfire.
For the first few hours, however, Hue’s puzzles are concise, inventive, and surprising. For that, at this price, Hue is an experiment worth experiencing.