Spectrum: First Light is a 2D platformer in the mould of a comic book puzzle. Produced by New Zealand-based developer Mido Basim, the game’s bright colours and graphic novel aesthetic are seemingly inspired by Comix Zone, the 1995 action platformer in which the hero must traverse panels of a comic book.
The story follows central character Tadashi, a comic book-loving computer science student whose mind constantly wanders from his studies. Waking up one day, Tadashi suddenly feels different: while his fears and insecurities are gone, he also finds himself displaced in a comic book world that is no longer merely part of his imagination.
Full colour spectrum.
Like the comic book medium by which it is inspired, Spectrum: First Light is a game that places great importance on the use of colour. This is true of both its visual aesthetic and gameplay mechanics.
The game’s presentation is decent, albeit not awe-inspiring. Creating the background art took the creators around eight months, while figuring out the right graphics style took six months. Visually the game ably suits the style required for a title that represents itself as a comic book platformer.
Colour is also a central tenant of Spectrum: First Light’s gameplay experience. While the player must navigate Tadashi across a various assortment of traditional platforming obstacles – moving platforms and jumps – Spectrum: First Light adds an interesting twist to things in the form of colour variables. The player has the ability to transform Tadashi’s colour, which is central to navigating each level. Tadashi can only walk on a platform that matches his colour – if the player wants to jump from a grey platform to a red one, for example, Tadashi’s colour will have to be changed mid-jump.
I hoped that Spectrum: First Light was going to be a game in which I was participating in not necessarily for the challenge but for the story, given its self-proclaimed comic book influences. While it promises immersive play – as if the player were participating in a comic – in reality these comic book style visuals are largely restricted to the hand drawn backgrounds. The actual platforming experience is relatively ordinary and monotonous, despite the colour-shifting mechanic. That said, I still looked forward to progressing through each level and engaging with the story.
And then, barely 10 to 15 minutes into the game, before the story even really got going, I hit the first ‘boss’ level.
Because Tadashi’s abilities in Spectrum: First Light are solely limited to colour shifting, there is no recourse with which to attack enemies. As such, the player must avoid them whenever they materialise because they cannot be killed. To describe the sudden appearance of this first boss as a spike in difficulty would be an understatement. While I knew exactly what was required for me to escape – run immediately at respawn, jump and colour shift accordingly, colour shift through walls to slow down the boss – it was extremely tough to pull off to the point where I felt the level was actually broken.
While I wouldn’t profess to be a platforming expert, I have played a lot of platform games in my time and would consider myself very familiar with the genre. However, no matter what I did, and despite flawlessly executing the necessary jumps and shifts, Tadashi was always caught. Immediately from the respawn spot I tried running to each platform and jump-shifting, and I was caught. I tried just jumping like crazy, and I was caught. I repeated this section of the game more times than I care to remember. It became extremely frustrating. Even when the boss running towards me occasionally glitched and I managed to get a head start, I was still caught. I can only conclude that this was a game-breaking imbalance, in desperate need of a fix.
Back to the drawing board.
On the surface, Spectrum: First Light looks intriguing. Its hand drawn art is appealing, and the colour transformation at the heart of its platforming experience is an interesting concept.
However, I cannot award a review score to this game based on its premise alone. While Spectrum: First Light appears to have a lot of potential upon first glance, it is unfortunately apparent that the game requires a lot of work to extend its playability beyond 15 minutes and probably shouldn’t have been released in its current state. As such, this review score is based upon my actual experience of the game – which came to a crashing halt far too soon due to bugs and broken mechanics.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.