OIO The Game Review
Developer: Uncanny Games
Publisher: Uncanny Games
Available on: Windows and Mac OSX (Reviewed on Mac OSX)
Since the iOS market came onto the scene, we live in a world that’s filled with game companies. Some are starting up and some are shutting down, while others are merging together and creating some kind of monster of gaming goodness. With those few companies that are finding the money needed to start a new company in these difficult times it’s very rare to find them making a game, with their very first attempt, that would simply astound a great deal of people. Uncanny Games, a brand new development house based in France has come up with a puzzle/platformer called OIO that ticks all of the boxes when it comes to a decent game, and what’s more, it’s not a game for any of the iDevices; which in itself is quite rare nowadays.
So what did we think of the first game from these new development gurus, and how exactly do you say “OIO”
STORY: The story within OIO begins as the title character wakes up from a slumber of an unknown length, neither you nor OIO himself knows what’s happened or why, and the main crux of the story revolves around both of you trying to figure everything out. All that’s given to the player is the fact that OIO is the only person around that has woken up, all of his friends are still seemingly frozen in time, stood like statues until you can figure out exactly how to wake them up. Throughout each of the levels are three items which, when collected and the level finished, reveal more and more about the story. These come to the player in the form of images on a board that can be interpreted in whatever way you want, in an attempt to figure out what happened to all of the people of this subterranean world that you’ve found yourself in.
The story is well crafted and heartfelt, most players will find themselves gaining a sense of attachment to the main character even though he only consists of a few simple polygons and never speaks. There’s a charm about the whole game that is often lost in other games, Uncanny Games are small enough to be able to deliver that sense of story to the player without having to worry about delivering something which will sell millions of copies; and that’s exactly what you get with OIO.
GRAPHICS: At first glance a lot of players would probably think that not a lot of effort has been placed into making OIO look good. All of the characters that can be found dotted around all of the levels are made up of blocks with a very low polygon count, however, once the players get to some of the more open areas of the game they will soon understand that the graphical processing power that was saved by reducing the polygon count of the characters has been spent on making some of the environments look simply breathtaking. Walk out of any of the cave systems that litter the game and into some of the cavernous underwater lakes and you’ll be gifted with amazing water effects, some impressive lighting techniques and background art that would make some Hollywood set designers green with envy.
Despite each of the characters’ low polygon count they all have a sense of emotion attached to them that some characters in AAA games, that have had months of development time spent on where that one single eyebrow hair is placed, don’t have. The depth of the emotion that each player will associate with the characters, the main character of OIO at least, is a testament to their design and something that won’t be seen very often at all.
SOUND: The characters within OIO don’t speak at all, so all of the information that you’re going to be getting about how they’re feeling is going to be conveyed through the use of music throughout the game. Music can be a very emotional medium when done well, and it’s pulled off with a near perfect implementation in OIO, when you’re supposed to feel sad – such as when the main character finds out the fate that’s befallen their friends – the music is sombre and heartfelt and the opposite can be said for those moments when something good happens.
Overall the music is beautiful and fits in perfectly with whatever is happening within the game at that particular moment in time. The only real complaint I would have is that because the music is so closely tied to what’s going on in the game, if you’re playing the same part over and over again because you keep dying or you can’t complete a puzzle, the music can get a little grating. The music is amazing, but hearing the same few bars over and over again just serves to remind me that I can’t do something.
GAMEPLAY: The main point of the gameplay within OIO is to collect as many little orbs of light as possible. The idea being that the more that you collect the easier it will be to wake up your friends, who seem to react to the amount of light they’re exposed to. Some of these little orbs of light are easy to collect, being on the path that you’re going to be travelling anyway, but some of them are in out of reach areas that you’re going to have to use your skill at platforming, and your skill at solving puzzles, in order to get to. Thankfully you don’t need to collect all of the orbs in the level in order to move on to the next one, but most players will feel the need to anyway.
The puzzles that are scattered throughout the game usually need to be solved via the use of a pair of special seeds. The green one has the ability to grow plants from little nodes that are on the ground in certain areas. The red one destroys the plants that are created. The player is only able to create three plants at a time and this limitation, combined with the difficulty of the platforming when using the keyboard, makes up the whole of the difficulty within OIO. Sometimes you’ll find yourself needing to creatively choose where to place a plant, when to destroy it, all while jumping and creating a brand new plant in mid air. It all seems fairly straightforward on paper, but try doing it in the game and you’ll find it to be a totally different ball game.
One of the only downsides to the entire game, as far as I was concerned at least, was the fact that using the keyboard was very difficult. There is the option in the settings to use a gamepad but every attempt I made at connecting my wired Xbox 360 Controller was met with disappointment. I don’t know if it’s a problem with something I was doing or if the game simply doesn’t support the amount of control that would be needed to pull off some of the more technical things that it requires of players. Playing with the keyboard however, is only difficult during the sections where you have to be very precise about your jumping. Whenever you’re tasked with running, navigating certain areas of the games and collecting light orbs the keyboard and mouse combination more than sufficed. When you find yourself in an area where you’ve got to plant seeds and then jump to land on those small sections of land, then you might be in trouble with the relative inaccuracy of the keyboard.
LONGEVITY: Once you’ve gotten to the end of OIO there’s no real reason for you to start the whole thing over again and go through it all a second or third time, however, for the people that can’t put a game down until they’ve collected all of the possible objects within the game then there’s always the little story objects that they’ll be able to spend some time doing, ensuring that they’ll come back at least a couple of times. Other than that, while I can’t see people starting the game again straight away, the game is short enough and modestly priced so that it’s certainly worth a play through further down the line, just as a reminder of what games can become when there aren’t certain constraints placed on them.
VERDICT: OIO is a small game with a big heart, the artistic direction and design of the characters alone make it a game that’s well worth playing. The gameplay itself is something that games that spend years in development would wish to achieve and the puzzles are challenging enough at first glance yet often simple enough, once you figure it out, that you’ll find yourself kicking yourself on a fairly regular basis for not working it out sooner. Amazing visuals, and some of the best puzzle mechanics I’ve seen in a while make OIO something that everyone should at least try. There’s even a free demo so you’ve got no excuse at all.