Cloud Whales And Evil People
Okabu is a game with a simple message: Industry is evil. If we look at this claim from an adult perspective, the case can certainly be made. I mean, look at the state of current events. Entire books have been written about the evils of pollution, factory farming, industrial waste, and so on. However, Okabu strips any kind of complex narrative away from this issue and presents it to players very simply. With cloud whales.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: Okabu is a preachy game. If you like your environmental awareness games subtle (like the superbly-done World of Goo or the whimsical de Blob series), you might be a little shocked at how plainly Okabu sets out its environmentally-charged story. You play as the cloud whales Kumulo and Nimbe, and citizens of the Earth realm flock to you to help solve their problems. Evil people have invaded peaceful places and randomly dumped oil in the water, filled the streets with robots, and polluted the air with smog. Why would people do this? No real reason is given. Maybe they just like the color brown?
The villains in this story are very reminiscent of the bad guys in Captain Planet. They pollute just because they can, which just doesn’t sound very practical. Environmental awareness is a complex issue, and presenting it as a good-people-vs.-evil-industry story feels disingenuous. Sure, kids might get the “pollution is bad” message, but aside from that, there’s almost nothing worthwhile to glean from the story. Although I was most let down by Okabus missed opportunity at telling a clever story, my annoyances with this game didn’t end there.
The game’s format starts off as a generic 3D platformer that feels like it was ported straight from 1999. As a cloud whale, you are endowed with certain powers, like making it rain after picking up water and firing small fruit. You can use your cloud powers to attack enemies, solve puzzles, and help the citizens of the world below do mundane tasks, like picking up trash and watering their gardens.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing at first, as you can’t really ask for extremely complex or fulfilling gameplay in the first fifteen minutes of any platformer. However, by the second hour, the gameplay never really develops, and you are stuck with the same linear gameplay that you had in the beginning. You’re still running errands, using the same cloud powers, and solving the exact same puzzles over and over. The game actually reminded me a little bit of the old PSOne Crash Bandicoot titles. Those games were fun ten years ago, but they haven’t exactly stood the test of time. Unfortunately, Okabu is a brand new game; it has no excuse to fall into the pitfalls of a past decade.
To its credit, Okabu does try to mix things up just a tad by introducing riders with different powers. Every few levels you’ll be introduced to a local who has some sort of tool that will help you solve puzzles and reach checkpoints. These tools can be anything from a toilet plunger capable of lifting heavy objects to a special musical instrument that can manipulate animals. These little critters add a little bit of variety to the gameplay, but, unfortunately, using them to solve blatantly obvious puzzles doesn’t make the game feel more interesting or rewarding.
About the only facet of the game that I found to be above average is the visuals. The game has an extremely whimsical visual style that features plenty of color, some outstanding animation, and beautiful creature design. Okabu really is one of the best-looking games on the PSN this year, and if all you care about is aesthetics, you’ll appreciate Okabu’s style and technically sound graphics.
However, that’s really where the good news ends; the sound design in Okabu is extremely uneven. The background music is composed of a variety of African-inspired rhythms, but during story scenes and end-level scoring, the sound disappears completely. No music, no sound effects; just jarring, eerie silence. You never really know how important sound is until there is none at all. And trust me, the experience is a little creepy.
Okabu is a game that suffers from being a little too paint-by-numbers. It works sufficiently as a generic platform game, but when gamers have so many choices available, I doubt they would go with something that is as basic as Okabu. The level design is completely uninspired, the puzzles are obvious, and the game will present no challenge to even the most novice of gamers. An argument could be made that this title is trying to reach out to the younger sect (though I don’t get much of a kiddie vibe from this title), but I think even youngsters who pick up Okabu will feel insulted by the game’s poor level design and want something just a little more challenging.
Couple this with the game’s bland story and poor sound design, and you’ve got a game that just barely manages to be average. I have to hand it to the visual design team, as the game really does look beautiful, but the sad fact is that playing the game just feels dull.
A game with a message doesn’t have to be boring, but this one doesn’t work very hard to break free from the stereotype. Okabu is just a little too generic to be worth your time, which is a shame, considering I would have liked to play a fun game about saving the planet. I guess I’ll have to go back to crossing my fingers and hoping someone makes a halfway decent Captain Planet game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Visual style is top-notch. The world of Okabu is very well-presented. 3.0 Control
Single-button controls work very well and are easy to work with. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music is fairly generic but it’s the long periods of awkward silence that ruin the sound design. 2.0 Play Value
Level design is far too simplistic and replay value is nonexistent. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best