HandCircus made an impression when it released Rolando for iOS. It was basically LocoRoco with tilt controls and it worked quite well. Okabu, the developer’s first PS3 game, is a different story. It’s actually a unique title with brand new ideas and concepts. Unfortunately, it’s not very fun.
Okabu is a co-op based puzzle game where you play as a pair of Cloud Whales named Nimbe and Kumulo. The story is very simple. The lands of the Yorubo tribe have been overtaken by machinery and pollution. The Doza, the evil masterminds behind it all, are destroying the environment and it’s up to the Cloud Whales to save the day.[drop]Visually, Okabu looks absolutely phenomenal. The characters are so ridiculously cute that you’ll smile just thinking about them. This is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing games on the PlayStation Network. The African-inspired soundtrack completes the picture and really brings the world to life. It’s a shame that the gameplay didn’t receive as much polish as the presentation.
The gameplay consists of cleaning up the environment in various ways. For example, you can remove pollutants from lakes and recycle the wastes, grow vegetables, clean up oil spills, and put out fires. Four Yorubo tribe members, each with their own unique abilities, provide some assistance along the way. Captain Monkfish, for instance, can use a plunger to grab objects and pull levers, Picolo can charm animals with music, Roki can control vehicles, and Kat powers up machinery with plugs.
Throughout the entire game you are constantly shifting between Nimbe and Kumulo while using the appropriate Yorubo to complete puzzles. There is drop-in/drop-out co-op and it works as intended. If anything, it’s the best way to play through the game since it makes certain tasks easier to accomplish. This also makes it a good family game.
The biggest problem with Okabu is that it literally holds your hand the entire way through. You are told where to go, what to do, and how to do it for every single objective. It feels like one giant tutorial. It’s not like the puzzles are difficult to solve, so there’s no excuse for this blatant disregard of human intelligence. Sure, this game might be intended for younger audiences, but it’s insulting to think that any child would need this much help. It takes away the mystique of exploring the villages and makes everything far less interesting.
Unfortunately, it only gets worse. At first, enemies can be taken out by spraying them with water. However, this tactic doesn’t work too often. You’re usually forced to engage in close battles with the aid of an animal. This wouldn’t be a problem if the enemies didn’t shoot homing missiles at you. It’s nearly impossible to dodge attacks while guiding a goat at the same time.[drop2]You can’t actually die in Okabu but you do lose your tribe member when you take damage. Once that happens you have backtrack and retrieve the Yorubo at a local spawn point. Considering the amount of enemies that you have to deal with, you’ll find yourself backtracking quite frequently. It all feels like a cheap way to extend the length of a level for no particular reason.
The controls are just as bad. Guiding the clouds around is actually rather easy, but it’s everything else that’s a mess. You have to move with absolute precision when guiding animals or else they’ll get stuck in the environment. And then there’s the vehicle sections. The concept itself is simple enough – you pick up items with the vehicle so that you can move them to the other side of the screen. This wouldn’t normally be a problem but the vehicle drives like it’s on ice with the controls set on reverse. It’s nearly unplayable.
The performance issues don’t help either. There’s tons of slowdown whenever the camera zooms out. The framerate even drops when there’s nothing going on, which makes no sense. The final straw for me was when the game crashed and corrupted my save data. I was about halfway through when this happened and I lost several hours of progress as a result. Considering how much of a chore Okabu has been this entire time, there is no way I can justify playing through it again from the beginning.
- Fantastic art style with a unique and colorful atmosphere
- Phenomenal soundtrack
- Attempts to make a positive message
- The controls are horrible
- Holds your hand way too much
- Game breaking glitches
- Frequent framerate issues
- Tedious mission structure
- Leaves no room for the imagination
At no point should game feel like a chore, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what Okabu is. I don’t think I have ever played a game that was so utterly unenjoyable from start to finish. If the tedious gameplay doesn’t get to you then the glitches and performance issues will. And while there is a lot of content to be found in Okabu, it doesn’t really matter when the game itself just isn’t any fun.