In a world where twin-stick shooters are becoming more and more popular, it takes an awful lot to even think of climbing the ladder to battle against the might of titles such as Geometry Wars 3. One way that smaller studios can attempt to take the big guns to task – aside from getting the gameplay down, of course – is by providing visually memorable games that stand out from the crowd.
If it's nothing else, Polychromatic is visually memorable.
A stylish looking title, Polychromatic does away with large, sprawling areas of play, confining the entire game to a simple circle at all times. It also does away with the traditional method of displaying scores and game information, imprinting those details on the playing surface itself, rather than having them hovering at the top of the screen, detached from the action. It's all very polished and slick-looking and certainly checks the boxes in terms of having a vibe all of its very own.
Not just a sharp-looking piece of software, Polychromatic is also a challenging beast. Three modes of play are on offer – Endless, Timed, and One Life – which all play pretty much identically, barring the main overriding rule described by the title of the mode. You zip around the circle as a small blue square with guns, with the goal obviously being to destroy anything else that appears in this petrie-dish of destruction. Enemies clatter into each other and rebound about the place and while it isn't always easy to see exactly what's going on in the chaos, it's relatively simple to work out the behaviour of each enemy type. Some are slow and mindless, appearing in massive groups which makes it easier to beat the target number of kills to increase the wave counter. Others mull around slowly for a bit before suddenly attacking you with gusto. Snipers appear at the extremities of the circle and take devastatingly accurate potshots at you from afar until destroyed.
As you beat the enemy counts to reach successive waves, things quickly get pretty hectic, to the point that you'll need to employ your two alternate attacks. A relatively standard smart bomb will clear out the area immediately around you in short order, while an interesting dash attack is available but will be relegated to secondary choice in the pecking order due to how tricky it is to use effectively. The dash move thrusts your ship across the playing area at a rate of knots, destroying everything in its path. You retain control of the ship whilst dashing, allowing you to aim and steer, but it can be difficult to work out when your immunity during the dash will end. As you would expect, if you suddenly become vulnerable earlier than you expected whilst dashing through a wall of enemies in a game where one hit kills you, it can be somewhat frustrating to say the least.
There are also some issues with regards to enemies. As mentioned, enemies do collide and bounce off each other in Polychromatic and this sometimes leads to somewhat unpredictable behaviour. Of course, that just increases the challenge and the required reactions for veteran players, but novices may become frustrated when they put together a decent run, only to see it ended by a pink map-marker style enemy suddenly cannoning across the playfield at unavoidable speed.
If those players can get past the occasional unfair death though, Polychromatic is definitely moreish. A quick go will turn into a second and a third as you try to unlock the (very) challenging achievements and lock down a decent position on the leaderboard. However, once the initial rush of chasing for scores is over there's little more to see. Yes, you get three modes of play, but they all take place on the same playing surface, against the same enemies and with the same weapon selection and perks. By the time you've played a single round of each, you'll have seen pretty much all that the game has to offer in terms of variety.
Polychromatic is a sharp-looking game that does a lot of things very well. The problem is that if it doesn't get its hooks into you, then there's every chance that you could play it for an hour and then never fire it up again. It's entertaining enough while it lasts, but there simply isn't enough variety here when stacked up against other similarly-priced titles.