Review: Bicolor

By Kelsey Rinella 25 Jul 2014 0
SPOILER: Pull that 4 left, left, up, right, and you can erase everything by moving each 3 horizontally in a really satisfying motion. That 4, crucially, lets you draw in white. Bicolor is basically just a puzzle version of white crayon apologetics.

There was a period during which I hated Bicolor. It's a simple puzzle game, involving drawing and erasing lines on a grid. While the concept won't raise your heart rate, it's not quite like anything I've played before, and it gratifyingly forces you to break the glass to use cognitive tools you rarely have to employ elsewhere.

But it commits one of the cardinal sins of the puzzle genre: massive difficulty spikes. For two days, I was completely stuck on a level which prior experience had left me entirely unprepared to solve. Indeed, it almost seems as though part of the problem is that there's so little to learn--beyond the basic insight that squares with only one connection are bad, every level presents a new challenge, and most of them are over quickly and leave you feeling like there were probably lots of other options.

Those concerns are real, and genuinely frustrating. However, the very freedom Bicolor provides allows it to subtly offer beautiful solutions to levels which can be completed with less holistically elegant bumbling about. Discovering one of these solutions feels like earning an achievement, but without the manipulative increase in a meaningless number. It's just a wink from the level designer, which is strangely satisfying in a world so full of explicit rewards. It also so thoroughly engaged me on one evening that I didn't notice the time until after three in the morning.

It took me nine years to convince my wife to date me, though. This was the level which shut down my every attempt to unlock its secrets for days. Any resemblance to romantic misadventures is purely coincidental.

Bicolor was planted smack in the center of the austere rock garden of minimalism; Papa Sangre is more visually lush, and it's audio-only. It's a good fit for the puzzle genre, and presumably helps keep development costs down and bring us more varied games, but it does make me appreciate the variety that Eric Sabee's Ascension art brings to my iOS gaming. The visual simplicity at least suits the simplicity of the gameplay--it really is just drawing and erasing (not necessarily straight) lines of specific length.

There are a surprisingly large number of symmetrical levels--initially, this seemed like just an excuse to fill up the space, since a solution which works for one section can be mechanically applied to the others. However, asymmetrical solutions are also possible, and sometimes more interesting. I never did find a symmetrical solution to the pictured orange level; I'm not sure it's possible (proof of this is left as an exercise to the reader, which is my way of trying to sound smart while shrugging).

I also had a brown casual vest. That still baffles me. I think I had socks with this pattern and color scheme once. Hey, shut up, it was the 80s.

Most of Bicolor's levels can be completely pretty quickly and without much thought. Whether you'll get enough out of it to make it worth your time may well depend on your interest in looking for a graceful solution when very little effort will get you to the next puzzle, and your ability to tolerate the inconsistent difficulty. I'm not given to chasing achievements, except where they are used as ways of highlighting activities which are independently enjoyable, so I mostly find myself happy to blunder through games so long as I get to see all the levels. That's how I initially approached Bicolor, and the best thing I can say about the game is that it reminded me that I can play while I'm playing.

Bicolor was played on an iPad Air for this review.

Review: Bicolor

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