Okabu isn’t ready. Straight out of the gate, I knew something was wrong when the storybook cutscene that introduced the cloud whales came without sound, and when I got to my first gameplay sequence, the audio spluttered in to life, as if it were an old car trying to turn over. I knew the problem wasn’t my stereo system, and it sort of set the tone of the sort of experience I was going to have with Okabu. One that is fun beyond belief, but struggles under its own lofty ambitions.
The gameplay of Okabu is intentionally simple, with the player taking control of two cloud whales in Single Player, which is how I spent the majority of my time with Okabu. Switching between each creature is easy, with my tactics often entailing using my secondary cloud whale as a means of transporting whatever item I was likely to need, be it filling him with water or having a companion ride on him for puzzles later on in the level. The game throws a real variety of puzzles at you, and though the types of puzzles sometimes repeats, the game introduces new elements often enough to keep things consistently fresh and exciting. Lighting up a dark forest with moon water, destroying a dam with the power of nature, the game knows how to make tasks you’ve done before seem different, if only in context.
Speaking of context, Okabu presents a narrative, and tells it competently. I actually remember each character by their personality and traits, and I know exactly what I was trying to do throughout my journey. It’s purely window dressing for the game to take you to a variety of locations, but I appreciated what it was doing nonetheless. Of course, the game seems to have been written with co-op in mind, with the two player mode having each player take control of a cloud whale, and try to solve puzzles together. It’s a testament to Okabu’s design that each player is never really bored by having to sit around whilst their partner does something entertaining, even if one often takes a support role whilst the other does the important stuff. Nevertheless, it makes each action feel like a successful piece of teamwork, even when it feels like the game is fighting against you.
I said earlier in this review that Okabu isn’t ready, and I mean it. Characters get stuck on level geometry, stop moving from time to time, and I’ve even had moments where I’ve managed to make my cloud whales stop responding to stick movement altogether, relying on propelling myself across the map through water streams alone. It’s disappointing to see a game unravel when a couple of things go wrong, devolving from entertaining to frustrating, if only for a moment. Once the game regains composure, it’s as if nothing ever happened, but those fleeting moments of panic when a character refuses to move aren’t easily forgotten. Oh yeah, the game also didn’t save when I beat the final boss, so I’m back at the end of world 3/4, with nothing to show for it save for a trophy or two. I would have cared if it had done if before I finished the game, but as I had already defeated the diabolical Doza, I found it difficult to muster up the effort to get angry about not being able to go back and try and 100% the levels. It’s disappointing to see the game released in such an unpolished state, especially when the rest of the game is so darn fun.
Okabu is a fantastic game with some frustrating issues. I got a lot of grief from my coworkers for calling it “Nintendo-esque” in my preview, and I was hoping to call it that again here, but I simply can’t. There’s a distinct lack of polish to the game that prevents such praise. With some more time, it could have been fantastic. As it stands now, it’s just plain good.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Lovely art direction and music
- Thoroughly entertaining gameplay that holds up for the course of the adventure
What I Dislike:
- Infrequent glitches, bugs and slowdown
- The music for a level after half an hour