The ID@Xbox program has been flourishing lately. It feels like we get one or two new indie titles every week. Many of these are ports of formerly PC exclusives, and we end up seeing them months or even a year after their initial releases. A few days ago another of these small studio efforts hit the dashboard, and once again it did so a year after its original release. However, this one was unique in that it was originally built with the Xbox One in mind. Finally arriving home, Unfinished Pixel’s Spy Chameleon
uses its Xbox roots to deliver a reliable and fun arcade experience.
Spy Chameleon Look at that focus
is a top-down stealth puzzler wherein you use your ability to change colors to blend in with your environment. Your four colors align perfectly with the face buttons of the Xbox One controller – A is green, B is red, and so on – which is why the game feels so at home on this platform. In either normal or hard mode you can dodge cameras, evade surveillance robots, manipulate mutated lab rats, and tease oscillating goldfish through five missions and 75 levels. Each mission features three challenges: flies, ladybugs, and time trials. The flies are easiest, collecting them is sometimes just a matter of following the easiest path to escape unseen. Ladybugs unlock after you collect a level’s flies and often require you stray from the path, finding new ways around. The time trials pose the greatest challenge most of the time, with some early levels requiring you to find the perfect route among what could be multiple paths. Later on there’s so much going on that there’s probably only one way out anyway and it’s vital to use your fly and ladybug runs as practice for when it’s time to speedrun it. This three-pronged challenge system means you’ll replay levels two or three times. It’s never possible to unlock all three challenge medals in one run, which is how the game gains longevity.
I love what you've done with the place!
The whole game feels very mathematical. The more advanced levels are built around timing and strategy, often leaving you only a half second to make your next move. As you can start to use more of the environment around you, including a Metal Gear
-esque cardboard box, it’s crucial that things are placed in the exact right spot and you maneuver them exactly the right way at the exact right time. This progression of difficulty is frustrating but usually fair. The controls are extremely tight and reliable, leaving the blame in your lap when you fail. If you’re really stuck, some levels can be skipped but the tiered level system means you can only skip so few before you haven’t done enough to advance to the next tier. In my playthrough, I played through the 75 levels but gave up and skipped three of them, all coming in the levels 50-75 range. Disappointingly, the levels don’t always progress naturally. Some difficulty spikes throughout feel out of place and would’ve been best reserved for the final few levels. I hoped the final level would be a culmination of everything I had learned in Spy Chameleon
, but it wasn’t even the hardest moment the game had to offer.
Graphically the top-down rooms appear vibrant and fun. Multicolored rugs and paint buckets plaster the world with the colors of your controller, and all the obstructions you come to hate like couches, desks, and the enemies would fit in with a Pixar or Dreamworks animation. With not a word spoken in the game, the music takes center stage. There are about ten different songs you’ll hear throughout a full playthrough. Light and bouncy, they match the aesthetics of the world but my patience for them wore thin towards the end as they became the soundtrack to my repeated failures.
The achievements are largely tied into hard mode, which I unfortunately found out after a full normal playthrough. Fortunately, hard mode isn’t much harder than normal. Gamerscore unlocks also weigh heavily on the three challenges. Standing out from several others already difficult themselves, there are a pair of very formidable achievements that deserve a spot in the trophy cases of everyone who pops them. One is to complete every challenge on every level on hard difficulty, the other is to beat the whole game with a cumulative time of 18 minutes. That doesn’t mean the game can be finished in 18 minutes. On the contrary, it’ll take much, much longer than that as you work to shave off your time from each level. The timer only counts time spent running through the levels, so if 75 levels take you 3-30 seconds with great efficiency, it’s certainly doable, but daunting.
Contrary to popular belief, chameleons actually change colors based on emotions. Like those lizards, my time with Spy Chameleon
was colored by feelings, too: of satisfaction when I’d finally overcome a persistent problem, which is the driving force behind any good puzzle game, of frustration from out of place level spikes, and of disappointment with an anticlimactic final few levels. At its best, the game is a worthy challenge for anyone who appreciates a video game just being a video game. With its classic arcade gameplay, cheap pricetag, almost no loading screens whatsoever, and its one-more-try mentality, Spy Chameleon
would feel right at home on mobile and tablets if it weren’t so reliant on pinpoint controls that touchscreens just can’t provide. Fortunately the analog sticks and color-coded face buttons on the Xbox One controller fit the game like the titular hero’s mask and the end result is a sneakily good puzzler.
- Trustworthy controls
- Fun color palette
- Challenging but engaging gameplay
- Some out of place difficulty spikes
- Lack of a grand finale
The reviewer spent five hours alternating red, green, blue, and yellow, tormenting goldfish, and doing his best Solid Snake impression. On the way he earned 16 of 30 achievements for 310 gamerscore. The game was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.