Game Review: Chronovolt [PSVita]
To give Chronovolt its dues, it costs £4.99 on PSN – I don’t really know what I was expecting. Foaming at the mouth for a reason to justify the £200 I dropped on my Vita during the summer, I could not have gone into this roll-a-ball-across-a-thin-walkway-athon wanting to love it more. Fascinatingly, Chronovolt beats the odds I generously stacked in its favour, its profound lack of remarkability transcending even its meagre price tag.
As you’d expect from something worth about the same as a pint and a packet of crisps, Chronovolt is light on story. The characters only ever appear in un-voiced static dialogues that try to make the best out of a pointless situation. Frankly, Chronovolt doesn’t need a plot. It’s a game about rolling a giant ball around; if functional, the mechanics are the draw, not a well-drawn odyssey. That being said, this is a story about time travel. Cool, right? Nope. You play as young lass Jessica Chase controlling a time-travelling ball called a Chronosophere (yeah…) as you pursue a paper-thin bad guy across time and space – and, of course, by time and space I in fact mean three unconnected, uninhabited and uninteresting level themes. That’s about it. There’s also a professor.
From screenshots you may be imagining that we’ve got a monkey-ball-esque situation going on. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case. Whilst the protagonist is indeed in a ball, and you can use the Vita’s tilt controls, the game defaults to the analogue stick, ultimately a more efficient way of playing. It works fine, the physics seem competent and the challenge is genuinely there towards the end of the game, but the process is rarely an entertaining one, due in large part to the battle you must wage against a truly erratic camera. There’s a light puzzle element but this usually amounts to tackling branching paths in a particular order, never really adding to the overall package. Similarly, the odd arbitrary time limit will be thrown your way, so if you like rushing stuff, there’s that.
The rating system is in the form of stars which are needed to progress; it’s very reminiscent of the modern smart-phone’s casual game library in this respect. Unlike, say, ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope, you can’t get away with one-starring levels on your first playthrough. You have to be getting two out of three on every level if you want to progress. Not only is this a tedious process – in order to get one star you have to scour the map for every collectable – the no-nonsense progression system mostly eliminates the potential replayability. Not that you’d want it; Chronovolt is an unrelentingly repetitive experience, giving the player all it really has to offer in the first handful of levels.
The final design quirk comes in the form of some pretty blatant Prince of Persia pilfering. Yes, you guessed it – you can rewind time. As patently derivative as this is, it actually becomes a necessity later on. You need to collect tiny power sources (the titular chronovolt, no less) to generate the sphere’s Tardis-impersonation, and by simply placing a greasy finger on your lovely Vita screen, out of the pit of death you spring. Time travel can also be used to destroy your ‘enemies’ – a word I use tentatively given that, for much of the game, your adversaries are just other moving balls. But yes, you can tap them away into the cosmos with some of the least convincing transitional animations this side of Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties.
Things don’t really improve in the looks department. It’s not hideous, but it’s not pushing the hardware. The level designs range from uninspired to gratuitously complex whilst the lack of background variety becomes abundantly clear very early on – this is especially disappointing given its touted steam-punk aesthetic which is only ever made manifest in the scant, depressingly interesting, artwork. The music is suitably generic and the voice-acting is predictably not there. There’s quite a substantial amount of slow-down throughout the experience, not to mention the frequent clipping issues and level-ending bugs.
Once you’ve slogged through the first round of what Chronovolt has to offer you realise that the reason you’d struggled to beat those times, or glide through that level efficiently is because your ball is the worst of many. In order to unlock the rest you’re going to have stump up some wonga – a decidedly cynical move which is especially egregious for those who have paid for the game already. Whilst its being free on PSN Plus mitigates the damage somewhat, it leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth regardless.
Chronovolt is rarely comprehensively broken, the thing that really bothers me about it, though, is its lack of conceptual innovation. It simply does not stand out it in any way and, given the spotty presentation, repetitive nature and useless camera, a genuinely compelling reason to play is hard to find. If you do decide to pick it up, perhaps we can all jump in our Chronospheres and witness the future of the PlayStation Vita, at last confronting the final and infinite sadness, made up of great potential and broken Final Fantasy X-shaped promises.