Okabu Review

By Jordan Douglas on October 25, 2011

Okabu, the latest title from Rolando developer Hand Circus, is a charming puzzle adventure on the PlayStation Network. It's light-hearted and simplistic nature - combined with an environmental lesson for good measure - make Okabu a game most likely suited for young children. That being said, some repetition and slow pacing in the levels could risk losing the attention of its intended audience.

Players take on the role of Kumulo and Nimbe, two whale-shaped clouds who are on a mission to stamp out pollution. The Yorubo people have been consistently harassed by the villainous Doza, building factories and ruining the land. It's up to the cheery cloudwhales, with a little help from the villagers, to take care of the Doza for good.

It's a pretty basic premise that not so subtlety suggests pollution is bad, and fortunately, doesn't get too heavy-handed or get in the way of puzzle-solving fun. It's nice that the developers could still try to convey a message such as this.

Both Kumulo and Nimbe can absorb water to aid in their journey. Whether you simply soak it up and drop it, or shoot the water in a stream, the cloudwhales use H2O effectively to short-circuit robots, put out fires, or grow the plant-life. Oil can also be used to set off charges.

These elements create some interesting physics puzzles to solve, but the real depth comes in the form of the villager's abilities. Characters such as Captain Monkfish and Picolo, to name just a few, assist the cloudwhales by grabbing objects and playing hypnotic melodies, respectively. These mechanics are clever and generally executed well, but they never really present a challenge because Okabu offers clear hints in spades.

This hand-holding will no doubt be appreciated by the game's younger audience, but several design choices don't cater to children nearly as well. Levels can tend to drag on, with repeating objections and somewhat frustrating backtracking to pick up your villagers if they're lost. In general, Okabu's slower pace and relaxed tone seem like an odd choice if you're attempting to keep youngsters engaged. This friction means it's difficult to recommend Okabu to either kids or adults without some caveats. It's a shame, because the concepts aren't too bad - they just aren't executed in the best way.

Whichever group you happen to fall into, Okabu is best played with a friend cooperatively. For one thing, the tedium of manually switching between Kumulo and Nimbe while playing alone is relieved. It's also much easier to manage fending off enemies and completing objectives simultaneously in co-op. However, the single camera, forcing players to stick closely together, means your multitasking capability is still limited. While co-op relieves some frustration, it doesn't cover up the aforementioned issues.

Where Okabu undoubtedly shines is in its charming presentation. The environments are vibrant and colourful, and the characters are appropriately whimsical. The afrobeat-inspired soundtrack also needs a great deal of personality to Hand Circus' latest adventure, which comes as no surprise considering their history with Rolando.

Final Thoughts

Okabu is a light-hearted puzzler which aims to teach children a little something about the environment. While its charming presentation is perfectly tailored to the audience, repetitive objectives and occasionally frustrating mechanics may cause some youngsters to lose interest. The simplistic puzzles and overall hand-holding also make the game difficult to recommend for adults. There's certainly fun to be had throughout Okabu, but the inconsistency in design will likely sour some on it.

Charming, whimsical presentation.
A variety of abilities.
Co-op makes everything better.
Little challenge to speak of.
Repetitive objectives.
Somewhat finicky controls.
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