Platformers usually don’t deviate from their age-old formulas, and adding some puzzle elements usually breaks the flow of its gameplay. So does uncanny Games’ indie game OIO – The Game fuse these two elements together to form a coherent whole?
Little wooden creature OIO is the only one left of his people who strangely turned to stone, so he goes on a journey to find out what happened to the world… and to survive the vicious traps and platforms on his way.
The story and characters are as mysterious as the world the player traverses. Only by collecting certain artefacts does he uncover what befell the little wooden man’s companions. No cutscenes which serve for exposition or talking to NPCs breaks the flow of gameplay. Just like Unmechanical the world is there to explore and make sense of. Like a work of art it leaves enough room for interpretation, even when one decides against picking up any of the fragments scattered around the levels. Of course this also means that players seeking the thrill of a captivating story with memorable characters will be disappointed, as the game offers none.
Simply jumping and dying
Even if the story and characters are unusual and not easy to relate to (if at all), the gameplay offers some interesting puzzle and platformer mechanics, despite their lack of originality. Jumping over gaps, from one moving, rotating platform to another has probably been a staple of the jump’n’run genre since the beginning. Only recently with games like Canabalt or Bit.Trip Runner has it become like a symbiosis between sound and movement.
There are some sections which are quite fluent, and it adds to the immersion that music and sound create a flow of precise jumping. It’s therefore a pity that a gamepad (at least the common Xbox 360 controller) is not supported. Only using the keyboard takes something away from the whole experience and makes movement cumbersome and unnecessarily frustrating. It’s true that early platformers like Commander Keen relied on the same controls, but in a world with Super Meat Boy and the aforementioned Bit.Trip Runner (which is of course more streamlined), it’s an oversight which is detrimental to the experience, especially since the platforming sections are unforgiving, and lots of unfair deaths ensue.
Simply puzzling and frustrating
Puzzles fare a little better, even if they don’t offer anything partcularly new. The wooden man can shoot seeds which, by contact with a green spot, make a plant grow. Shooting another seed on that plant creates an additional one. But only three are possible at the same time. It’s a simple concept, but handling these elongated platforms, on which the player can jump on, becomes more difficult the more one progresses, as they have to be used to press buttons and to reach higher parts of the levels.
Here platforming and puzzling go hand in hand, and it usually works quite well, as new gameplay elements are introduced and explained with small pictures at the bottom of the screen. This makes the game easier to pick up and play without learning an overcomplicated button design, even if some later stages of the game demand quite a lot of planning and sometimes obscure thinking.
As much fun as the jump-stop-and-think gameplay is, it can get frustratingly difficult in some parts when the player is chased by fire or something bigger (not to spoil it here) in which the time frame to react is so small that even seasoned platformer fans will most probably want to destroy their keyboards. And as if this weren’t annoying enough, some puzzling on the way is thrown in, which together with an unfair checkpoint system nearly breaks the game and takes the enjoyment out of everything else.
It’s also a bit weird that collecting orbs (additionally to the rare artifacts) isn’t well implemented in the game as well. Either one absorbs them because they’re simply in the way of jumping and running or one skips them, as it doesn’t really matter, except for some highscores. There’s no other reason to find them all and take the pains to get into even more danger than the typical route offers. It would have been interesting if these added to some sort of levelling up system, but as it stands, there’s another missed opportunity and an awkward design decision.
Simply wonderful to look at and listen to
The way graphics and music create a world both mysterious and captivating, turning the game more into a work of art in which one feels at the same time lonely and ambitious to explore its surroundings. The eclectic experience in which the fluid animations of the wooden man are in stark contrast to his petrified kindred who are in stasis and give certain hints of what to expect next, like another dangerous contraption in the form of platforming and puzzling.
Sound effects are spare, and it almost feels like a dream going through the strange but beautiful scenarios which offer some unique vistas, especially near the end, to make the journey worthwile, while the electro tunes fill in the empty silence of the protagonist.
It’s simplicity itself and in the game
OIO – The Game is a mystery when it comes to storytelling and characterization. It’s for the player to decide if he wants to go deeper into its lore or rather enjoy the simplistic jump’n’think mechanics.
As a puzzle game, it almost succeeds in offering a satisfying experience, if it weren’t for some very frustrating platforming sections which rob it of its accessibility and intuitiveness. This is a shame, because the unparalleled presentation creates a unique world which is a joy to behold, but all too easy to be swept aside because of inconsistencies in level design and gameplay mechanics.
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