Ibb by himself isn’t much to look at – he’s just a green semi-circle with legs – and would be lost without the ever-so-slightly taller Obb, who would be just as helpless on his own. At the core of Sparpweed’s PSN debut is this symbiotic partnership, so you’ll always need a friend alongside you, even if it’s just your right thumb. Luckily I had TSA’s Bunimomike to keep me company, as we played through Ibb and Obb’s journey.
In many ways it feels like this game has pared down the 2D platformer to its very basics, applying these bare bone mechanics to a co-operative partnership. All you can do as either Ibb or Obb is run from side to side and jump, but when combined they manage to make quite a formidable team. It’s as simple as hopping onto the other’s head and using them as an extra stepping stone. Can’t quite reach that high ledge? No problem, simply piggyback your buddy for that added bit height.
Beyond that, Ibb & Obb revels in turning everything on its head, quite literally. The floor is actually a thick dividing line which has a gravitational force pulling you towards it from either side. If you’re underneath, you’re effectively running on a ceiling and jumping sends you downwards, rather than up.
This is echoed in the graphics, based around large numbers of contrasting plain vector shapes and colour gradients. Background shapes might be evocative of plant life in one area, or take on more abstract shapes elsewhere, but they all exist in a parallax effect which shifts as you run past.
The colours in use shift throughout the game, but there’s always a clear difference between the colours and gradients on either side of the central line. In combination, these add up to a striking effect and a surprisingly busy screen, though it never gets in the way of how you play the game.
All the while, Ibb and Obb’s music and sound effects lend a serene backing to proceedings. It reflects the parallax level design with complex layers of instruments interwoven to create a rich but soothing atmosphere.
Switching between sides is as simple as jumping through the bubbly portals within the ground, moving between the two distinctly-coloured mirror worlds. It’s such a wonderfully seamless effect, and as a central mechanic it couldn’t have been done much better. When the game decides to give you perfectly spaced portals, so that you can take a leap of faith and fly in a sine wave, it’s a simplistic delight to hurtle across the level.
Even more perfectly, your momentum is absolute. If you jump from a certain height in one half of the world, passing through a portal will see you reach the exact same height – or depth, depending on the frame of reference – on the other side.
What all of this does is open the game up to puzzles, many of which can take quite a bit of thought to solve. You will invariably be split up by the design of the levels, when one person cannot follow the other, and you’ll have to work closely in tandem with your partner to get through to the next section together. For that reason, you absolutely need to be playing with a headset, in my opinion. The right analogue stick will allow you to draw a bubbly line on screen, to illustrate what needs to happen, but I found this works best when married to adapted footballing clichés like, “Get on my head!”.
As you progress, the game gently adds new elements to the mix. Some portals are coloured green or red, and refuse the other player passage, whilst yellow segments in the central line denote pads which will transfer all of a jump’s momentum to the other side. The introduction of opposite-gravity bubbles in particular sparked moments of childlike glee, as we first discovered that they would propel you upwards to new heights, before their later appearances in devilishly tricky challenges to your reflexes and momentum management.
Then there are the enemies, which are deadly and spiked on one side of the line, with a weak spot in the mirror image. They start off small and fairly inoffensive, jumping in set patterns or just going left and right, but towards the end you’ll find their differing forms harder to overcome, and some of them will actively hunt you down. You will want to kill them all, not necessarily out of vengeance – although this will certainly come into it – but because their deaths reward you with more of the collectable crystals.
These also appear in hard to reach places, which require thought above and beyond just getting from left to right. They might not even be visible to you without a fair bit of exploration and experimentation. Additionally, the 15 levels hold access to 9 secret areas, which offer an even greater degree of mind-bending puzzle for you to figure out. Whilst we discovered a few during our play through, they had us completely and utterly stumped, and we resorted to looking up a solution, only to discover a truly ingenious use of momentum generation to reach trickier platforms.
Therein lies one of my only criticisms of the game, that there were a couple of areas which defied our combined logic for extended periods of time. We were on a few occasions well and truly stuck, unable to progress because we couldn’t find a way to reach a certain platform, and at these points the game would grind to a halt.
On the other side of things, certain areas with enemies required incredibly precise and fast reactions in order to pass through, in addition to finding a peculiar solution. Dying a countless number of times is not particularly fun, so on a handful of occasions we definitely became frustrated by the game.
These weren’t insurmountable, by any means, but pushed our patience to quite a degree. On the other hand, they also offered up moments of elation when we finally figured out the way through, and many puzzles offered moments where we could laugh at our own ineptitude, or engage in such delightful tomfoolery as pushing the other into a spiked enemy.
Were you to try and play the game in single player, that camaraderie would be missing. I gave this little more than a cursory attempt, as the game is so absolutely intended for co-operative play, but the option is there should you wish to try and control both Ibb and Obb simultaneously, an analogue stick for each. Whilst the first level was perfectly manageable, later feats of precision and timing will be increasingly difficult to achieve on your own.
- The core gameplay mechanics are endlessly enjoyable, right to the end.
- Lovely graphical style and music.
- The feeling when you finally figure out a puzzle which had you stumped.
- Really requires that you play with a friend, and that you share a screen, if possible.
- A few particularly difficult sections outstayed their welcome, and had us frustrated.
Ibb & Obb is a game that’s really at its best when playing with a friend and exploring the game’s collage of elements, as you try to puzzle your way through the obstacles and challenges ahead.
Mike’s Second Opinion:
As my cooperative gaming bromance continues with the Teflon, here I am supporting his review with a second opinion about the delightful Ibb & Obb.
With its fresh, clean vector-graphic looking style, it’s as easy on the hardware as it is on the eye. Game-wise we careered through a sequence of levels with all manner of co-op tricks up our proverbial sleeves. From jumping on the shoulders of your co-op buddy – accessing those hard-to-reach places – to creating some genuinely humorous amounts of momentum, mirroring and juxtaposing your friend’s movements.
There were a few frustrating puzzles but they are made all the easier with a lovely drawing tool on the right stick. A quick flick of the stick has you illustrating on-screen with a flourish of ribbon-like bubbles (think: rhythmic gymnast twirling the ribbon around like a six year old child who’s taken the top off of the beehive). Traversing the levels are a treat and there were countless times when we were roaring with laughter or shouting at each other to stop “tooling around!”.
Sonically, you’re in for a treat. Sure, the sound effects befit the game, but the soundtrack is a delight for the ear canals as it’s been created by Kettel – a band I’m already familiar with – with a beautifully simple and dreamy soundscape of chilled-out electronica. Beatless and blissful, the music sits to enhance the world around you and it does a top job of it. So much so, that both Teflon and I have bought the soundtrack independently.
Play-time was around eight hours but that allowed for plenty of clowning around. Ibb & Obb keeps things fresh from start to finish which was a genuinely pleasant surprise.
Grab a friend, get the game, relax and enjoy a bit of co-op platform tomfoolery with this little gem of a title. I think that Tef’s eight out of ten is perfect for Ibb & Obb.
- Developer:Sparpweed Games
- Publisher:Sparpweed Games
- Platforms:PS3, PC
- Release Date:14/08/13 (PC release TBC)