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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Preview : Prisma & the Masquerade Menace (PC)

Preview by Matt C.

At a glance, Prisma & the Masquerade Menace probably looks like a lot of other platformers out there, with its jumping puzzles and colourful presentation. However, its defining characteristic is inspired by something quite different: Ikaruga. In Treasure’s famously difficult shoot ‘em up, the only way through the onslaught of bullets is to change your ship’s colour so you can absorb bullets of the same hue; in Prisma, you can shift between four different coloured dimensions in order to land on platforms that you’d otherwise fall through.

It’s a simple idea, and based on my impressions of a preview build spanning the first five levels, it works really well. Each level is made up of different platforms, in typical platformer fashion, but some of those only become solid when you switch to the appropriate coloured dimension: red, blue, yellow, or white. You might be running along, and then you find a blue platform – if you try and jump on it without first switching to the blue dimension, you’ll just fall to your doom.

The game starts of quite easy, with a single colour and basic puzzles with single coloured platforms surrounded by colourless ground that stays solid regardless. But as it goes on, things become more complex, and you have to string together jumps and colour changes on the fly to get through a long line of coloured platforms in sequence. Switch to the blue dimension, jump on the blue platform, jump off it, switch to red in the air, land safely on the red platform, jump again, switch to yellow, land on the yellow platform, and so on.

The Kickstarter campaign video has a great rundown of how puzzles work in Prisma & the Masquerade Menace

Another wrinkle comes in when you have impassable obstacles tied to colours as well. You might have, for example, a big stack of barrels coloured blue – when you’ve got blue active, you can’t get past, but when you switch to another colour, the barrels disappear and you can run through with ease. Naturally, this gets worked in with the platforms, so that you have situations where you have to activate a colour, land on a platform, then leap off and deactivate it to pass through an obstacle, before turning that colour back on again so that you can safely land on a platform on the other side.

The final piece of the puzzle is that each colour also has a unique ability: blue lets you jump much higher than normal, red lets you break certain things, and yellow lets you run fast. Yellow is particularly unique in that the speed boost and added momentum keeps up even when you change colour, as long as you don’t stop moving. So, on top of everything else, you have to keep in mind the abilities that each colour gives you, and how you can use them to overcome the challenges before you.

This all adds up to a frantic game of rapid-fire colour switching as you run through increasingly complex sequences. Here’s an example:

colour-based puzzle platformer Kickstarter

1) You start on a colourless platform
2) Switch to yellow so you can dash, because you’ll need that momentum later
3) There’s a yellow obstacle in front of you!
4) Switch to red, while still running, so you can pass through the obstacle
5) There’s a breakable obstacle on the other side - punch it!
6) As soon as you’ve punched it, switch to a different colour so you can pass through a red barrier
7) Jump at the end of the platform, and switch to blue (if you haven’t already)
8) Land on a blue platform, then jump again because it’s a tiny platform
9) Switch to yellow in midair, because the next platform is yellow
10) Jump, switch to white, land on a white platform
11) Now, with the momentum you’ve carried from the start of the sequence, jump over one last gap to get to the next checkpoint

All of that happens within the space of a couple of seconds. So, yeah, Prisma & the Masquerade Menace gets pretty chaotic, and this is within just the first few levels. I’m looking forward to seeing how intense it gets later on.

That said, all this kind of trigger-happy, high-speed platforming depends entirely on precise controls, and the current build just isn’t where it needs to be on that front. I could never really know when I pressed a button whether it was actually going to register, especially for the more challenging sequences where you have to press a lot of buttons in a short space of time. Even when I had the patterns and timing down just right, success ultimately came down to luck as to whether my inputs would register. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how frustrating that is.

Steam puzzle platformers from Kickstarter
Assuming this issue gets resolved, I’m really looking forward to the full version of Prisma & the Masquerade Menace. It has a simple, elegant hook that builds up into an almost Sonic-like degree of “gotta go fast” platforming bliss, even in the preview, so I can’t wait to see what other tricks the devs have up their sleeves. There’s little by way of plot in what I’ve seen so far, but the preview build teases a wacky, delightful adventure of comedic fantasy filled with strange and endearing characters. It’ll be a fantastic game, just as long as unreliable controls don’t pull the rug out from under everything else.

- Matt C.
Find me on Twitter: @MC_Odd

Preview : Prisma & the Masquerade Menace (PC)
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