Every death is meaningful, every life holds the spark of a new hope. This is the adage of the OkunoKa Madness player. A hardcore, vibrant platformer that’s learnt from the best; there’s a touch of Rayman here, a spot of Super Meat Boy there, but for all that it’s learnt, its indelible, lasting effect is one of pure, undiluted brutality.
“If you know your enemy, and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”. So said ancient strategist Sun Tzu, and while he might not have immediately been thinking about OkunoKa Madness, he’s still bang on the money. You will discover a hatred, a dark side, packed away inside your soul that OkunoKa Madness manages to unleash upon the world, but to beat it you must succumb to it. You must learn its ways and acknowledge the mirrored evil and anger in yourself. Only then, can you win.
This is a game set on grinding you down, chewing you up, hammering nails in you, catching you in a bear trap, throwing shards of glass at you, putting cigarettes out on you, and calling you mean names while they break all your toys. It’s pretty great, actually.
So OkunoKa Madness is a hardcore platformer. The original OkunoKa was a Switch exclusive that caused Joy-Con all around the world to break out in a cold sweat, and Madness doubles down on the masochistic jumping, sliding and dying delights. OkunoKA Madness adds a whole extra world, taking the level count to over a 100, adds in a handful of playable characters and tidies up elements like the leaderboards and timer display, as well as introducing itself to PC, PS4 and Xbox One players. All manner of game controllers should begin trembling now.
There’s a vague sense of narrative to the Story mode. Ka is an adorable blue thing who’s set to save the Soul World and fell the evil Os, mostly by making your way through a set of fiendish platforming perils on your way to eating one of the Spirits. I’m not sure how much sense it makes, or needs to make, but it has given OkunoKa Madness’ designers the opportunity to put lots of spiky, vicious, decidedly unfriendly metal things in our hero’s way.
You will die. Every level gives you a grade that’s related to how fast you complete a level, but up in the top right it’ll always show you how many deaths it took to get there. It’s often a decidedly sobering number, and if you weren’t a committed player it might seem excessive. Insane, even.
Part of what makes OkunoKa Madness so hard is that it’s not simply about jumping from platform to platform avoiding the bag guys. Ka ingests three different elemental spirits along the way, and a quick flick of the shoulder button will change Ka’s elemental power.
What this boils down to is that Ka can make platforms, walls, or indeed random shapes, appear and disappear. Generally the game asks you to do perform this elemental magic while you’re jumping in mid-air, avoiding a laser, narrowly avoiding something spiky, and then not quite avoiding some spiky vines, causing yet another of those myriad deaths.
There’s a glorious rhythm to getting it right. A crescendo of button presses and finger movements feels like conducting an obscure but deadly dance, where only for the briefest moment do the two partners synchronise to pull off some incredible leap, twist or turn. It can be pure, unadulterated magic, and you will feel like the cleverest, most amazing, most talented video game player in the world, until the next ignominious death.
It’s hard to say why you keep coming back for more, but that’s the cleverest part about it. OkunoKa Madness is just surmountable enough that you know you can do it if you just give it another twenty-three more tries… -ish. Once you’ve beaten the level, you’ll then imagine you can do it just a little bit faster and go back and start again. My family have watched with incredulity while I’ve played it, and their anger has surpassed my own. My son has literally just left the room because he can’t watch it any more, spreading the madness further.
It all looks fantastic too. Weird painterly visual touches abound in the background, while grotesque boss fights are body-shock tour de forces, melding the ridiculous difficulty with off-brand Rayman-style visuals. It’s possible you’ll be too busy dying to notice.
There are a few rough edges here and there. Some of the more complicated levels can show the odd instance of slowdown, and that’s running on an Xbox One X, and the level select screens can be a pain to navigate through if you’re returning to improve your grades along the way, but they’re mild grumbles in a game designed to upset you.