Color Zen: Relaxing, Challenging, Zen.
Out of the reasons gamers give for why they play games, releasing stress has to rank among the top. It must be surprising then, for an outside observer, what kind of content gamers consider “stress relieving.” Getting shot at by Nazis, jumping over boiling lava, careening down a rain-slicked street at 170mph, the activities of our favorite pastime must seem like ridiculous stress inducers to outside observers. Maybe it is the high intensity of these games that help melt away our stresses, putting the pressures of our relatively mundane lives in the background while we work on solving manageable problems.
Regardless of the psychological factors, that my Psych101 class in no way prepared me to analyze, that may be in play here, there comes a time when a different kind of stress reliever is necessary. One that isn’t so high strung, one that, like a Zen Garden, lets you move at your own pace. A stress reliever that doesn’t work by building up more stress and then letting it all out with a “level completed” notification, but instead allows it to simply melt away. Color Zen is that kind of stress reliever.
That isn’t to say Color Zen isn’t challenging, it has puzzles that require some mental gymnastics to conquer, but there is no score, no time limits, no load times if you mess something up, no pressure. Everything in Color Zen, from the accessibility to the graphics to the soundtrack seems aimed and making sure your experience with the game is as stress free as possible. It is challenging without being pushy, and that is a big accomplishment.
Some explanation of the mechanics involved is probably necessary. Color Zen gives players control over a variety different colored circles and tasks them with filling up the entire stage with a predetermined color. Throwing a circle into an object of the same color will make the stage fill up with that color where ever there are blank spaces. White objects will do the same thing for any color and black objects will destroy any object it comes into contact with. Things become complicated once objects start protecting other objects and shields get thrown into the equation.
Color Zen looks great regardless of the device it is running on, but for what it is worth, the art looks even better with a larger screen and the smaller objects are a little easier to grab and send where you want. It isn’t significant enough to up the score to a perfect 5 woofs, but tablet became my preferred method of play for Color Zen
None of that complexity results in elevated levels of stress, and the relaxed atmosphere is present throughout. Beyond the soundtrack and absence of competitive stat tracking, the graphics and level design, which cooperatively form beautiful pieces of abstract art also help to create a feeling of relaxation. This is more akin to playing in a Zen Garden than it is to the twitch, reaction games that are nearly synonymous with gaming.
Color Zen does exactly what it is designed to do, put you in a relaxed state. At the same time it provides challenge through puzzle solving while inducing the smallest amount of frustration possible. There is so little wrong with the game, honestly, I am having a hard time finding reasons to criticize it. The free version, I suppose, could be criticized for having too few levels, but buying more is such an inexpensive purchase, that seems like nitpicking. I also noticed that some levels seemed far easier than levels that preceded them. This may have been an intentional design choice, as I found that an easy level every now and then help me relax and feel in charge of the game. Intentional or not, it helped me enjoy the game, so it can’t correctly be called a flaw.
Color Zen lives up the billing of its name. Simply put it is colorful art that puts players in a Zen like state. Color Zen is the perfect compliment to an after work beer (or psychoactive chemical of your choice) to help you relax. It isn’t going to revolutionize the gaming industry but it does provide an alternate experience that holds a huge amount of value in its own right.