On the surface (and the very concept of ‘surface’ is particularly germane here, as we shall see below), Trichrome is a simple puzzle game. The interface is a two-dimensional network of empty mini triangles, and the player is required to fill these and construct larger triangles of the same colour. Build such a triangle, and it will disappear in a burst of points. The aim is to use this system to remove a specific set of triangles, marked with a dot, that spawn at the periphery of the board. As the game wears on, you’ll have to contend not only with more dotted triangles, but your half-constructed triangles from previous puzzles that continue to clutter the screen. You will also acquire special patterned triangles, key to reaching the game’s final goal.
“An experience found…within the perceptual system of the player”Shapes, colours, points, clutter – familiar, post-Tetris territory so far, yet the game does have a unique selling point in its difficulty (“the Dark Souls of fast twitch pattern games”, goes the marketing line). All of the above is done under the watchful eye of a brutal time limit, which can be placated for only seconds at a time, and seems incapable of accruing more than thirty of them at once. It’s certainly difficult, though no more so than Tetris or Columns or Dr. Mario in their later stages. Indeed, perhaps its real USP is not that it’s uniquely tricky, but that it skips over the dull warm-up stages and becomes pleasantly challenging as early as level 2.
So no, this is no reinvention of the wheel. It does offer quite an experience, however, and it’s an experience found not in the game space per se, but within the perceptual system of the player. As optical illusion chain emails have shown us over the years, two vases placed side-by-side can look remarkably like two identical female faces, and it’s possible for the brain to switch between alternate interpretations of a single image from moment to moment.
“Hard to spot how baffling it is from a screenshot”With this in mind, take a look at that interface again. It may be hard to spot how baffling it is from a screenshot, but it’s not just a “two-dimensional network of mini triangles”. That’s one interpretation, sure, but it’s also a two-dimensional network of diamond shapes, or a two-dimensional network of hexagons. You’re lucky, even, if you’re eyes manage to stay within the realm of two dimensions, because the differential shading of the triangles makes it possible for Trichrome to take a mid-game lurch into the third – suddenly, it’s a set of cubes whose sides you’re now colouring in.
Even if you are able to tame your brain to the point where it will hold a consistent, triangular perception (well done, if so), the triangles offer up their own mental challenges. They’re not all pointing in the same direction, after all, meaning that you’ll have to visualise what four mini triangles constituting a larger triangle look like from another angle. Reconsider that time limit in this context (take into account, also, a time’s-running-out noise that seems designed to evoke the Jaws theme), and the game stops resembling late-stage Dr Mario and starts to resemble a sadistic variant on the spatial reasoning section of an IQ test. It’s not unknown for puzzle games to get into our brains in odd ways (as the well-documented ‘Tetris effect’ demonstrates), but this one seems to prey on cognitive weakness with a particular fervour and, it has to be said, skill.
Trichrome is a single, clever idea made into a well-presented, fun game, albeit one of questionable long-term appeal. That’s what the score below reflects, but mere numbers cannot capture the real, multi-dimensional game going on just past the retinas. There are studies where participants have been asked to write words repeatedly to the point that they become unsure of their veracity. Trichrome might not go so far as to make you reconsider the existence of triangles, but it should, at least, give you a strange new perspective on them.