Before the release of the PlayStation Move, some of the most exciting things we'd seen it do weren't in launch titles but in tech demos. In these, the controller became a virtual lathe, virtual camera, or summoned Minority Report-style virtual windows. Move-based Echochrome II has some of that same impressive newness and ingenuity, which make it a puzzle game well worth sampling by those who've invested in Sony's motion-control device.
The look and feel are close to those of the original game--aesthetically spare, elegantly presented--but this time, the platforms shifting around the game's ambling mannequin character aren't made of lines and tricks of perspective but of the shadows cast by blocks suspended in midair and illuminated by a virtual flashlight: the Move controller. The character automatically walks to and fro along the shadow platforms, following whatever route you make available by adjusting the angle of the light. By shifting the shadows with the Move controller, you line up platforms to create a path to the exit.
It's a simple concept with a single, simple control input. Complexity grows out of increasingly elaborate block arrangements and with the distortion of shadows sometimes projected into a corner of the "room," for example, instead of onto a flat wall. Shadows cast by blocks in the foreground and background also combine to create new features: the shadow of a ball embedded in the floor shadow becomes a trampoline; an archway shape aligned with a wall shadow becomes a portal; a rectangle topped with a semicircle becomes the exit to which you need to guide the walking figure.
That gameplay, combined with classy music and a soothing voice-over, makes for a relaxed, engrossing experience. The pleasing minimalist presentation also keeps the modest visuals (blocks, shadows, handful of colours) from seeming drab. Using the Move controller like this is intuitive and pleasingly novel; it's a shame the onscreen response seems a little slow. But discovering a path hidden in a jumble of hanging blocks is satisfying all the same, and the difficulty curve is just about right. There are also multiple ways to navigate each level, and some solutions are less elegant than others. For instance, you can scrape the character off of ledges with moving shadows to force him to drop onto a platform below. The character "dies" instantly when you drop him off the level altogether or crush him between shadows. In the latter case, the unforgiving instant death can be frustrating, especially when it's caused by a small, accidental swipe of the controller. Otherwise, solving each level gives the cerebral buzz typical of an absorbing puzzle.
There are three modes to play in: the standard Escort mode, in which you guide the walker to the exit; Echo, in which you must guide the walker to other figures placed around the level; and Paint, in which you guide multiple walkers that must paint a certain number of blocks by stepping on them. In any mode, each level is only a few minutes long at most, with many available to play from the get-go, so you can bypass one on which you get stuck. There are more than 100 levels in all, meaning there's plenty to do even before you back out of the Play menu and enter the Create or World modes.
In Create mode, you're given a sandbox to make your own puzzle levels. This is done by painting the basic blocks into 3D space, watching the shadows form on the wall behind. You unlock more palettes and items for creating with as you progress in Play mode, and you can upload your created levels for sharing over the PlayStation Network. To play levels created by others, you can browse or search in World mode, which offers user-made levels sorted by difficulty, popularity, newness, and the like. You might spend a lot more time in World mode than you do in Create; the experience of making and tuning a quality level is naturally more complicated than playing one. The tools are straightforward enough, but there are many of them--especially in contrast to the simplicity of actually playing the game--and so creating a level is intricate, painstaking work. At least there's an admirably complete level-building tool set for anyone with the patience and creative flair to design their own shadow mazes.
Aside from the sharing and rating of user-created levels, the game's online features include global leaderboards for level completion times. And for show-offs, there are options for uploading your level replays to YouTube. Among the extras, you can also find shadow art. These are images hidden within levels, revealed with the perfect alignment of shadows, which are then unlocked for viewing in the shadow art gallery. In the Fabled Racers level, shining the Move flashlight at just the right angle conjures a picture of a hare; then, shining the light from another angle, produces a tortoise. It's a creative, ingenious extension of a creative, ingenious application of the Move controller. Echochrome II is one of the most interesting Move games so far, and it arrives with very little fanfare--Move owners shouldn't let it pass them by.