Developer: Hand Circus
Publisher: Hand Circus
Available on: Playstation Network Only
Everyone one is going green these days and it was only a matter of time before environmentally conscious games would begin development. Okabu, the latest effort from developer Hand Circus, would fall into this category. In Okabu you take the roles of Kumolo and Nimbe, members of an ancient race of cloud whales (yes, you read that correctly) and the world below has been suffering from pollution caused by a tribe, known as the Doza, who have been implementing their own industrial revolution using their own army of tech and robots. Mechanization normally brings prosperous outcomes but the problem is, they have been dumping waste everywhere. It is Nimbe and Kumolo’s job to stop this threat with help from an environmentally friendly tribe known as the Yoruba.
Okabu has a unique, colorful graphic style that reflects the lightheartedness of its gameplay and story. The animation is smooth for the most part but there are a few quips such as the fact that, from time to time, you will get stuck behind objects on the levels, however, this is solved by simply switching to the other character and it doesn’t happen often, so it’s really only a minor gripe. All of the characters within the game have a hand drawn look that is distinctive, cartoony feel reminiscent of animal crossing; this is where the game shines. The whale clouds and different towns folk you meet ooze personality from their clothes to their actions and speech, it’s made abundantly clear from the moment you start the game up that Hand circus paid great attention to detail on creating this vibrant world.
Another standout for this game is its sound. Okabu has some of the catchiest music I have heard in a while, the tunes have a tribal/tropical sound as they incorporate various hand drums and flutes. The sound effects serve their purpose as they push you along the adventure with every splash of water, every bit of garbled dialogue, being well placed and captures the message of the game very well.
It’s easy to tell that a lot of care and attention was given to making the game visually and audibly appealing so I assumed the gameplay would follow suit; unfortunately it falters here. The basis of the game is task oriented, you enter a village and complete various tasks provided by its villagers, these tasks are eco-centric ranging from irrigating crops to cleaning oil spills and Kumolo and Nimbe have the ability to absorb water and other substances to complete these tasks. After absorption they can either cause rain to fall down on objects or shoot forward in a stream. The game really holds your hand through the adventure, pop ups appear with prompts and pictures explaining exactly what to do and although this is much appreciated it may have been overdone a little. Nothing much was left for people to discover or figure out by themselves and, as the game progresses, more tasks are added but they never really become any more difficult, just more in volume.
There are areas where you have to take down machines who attack using missiles, but it’s never too aggravating. After a while the tasks become repetitive as each town seems to have a variation of the same problems…which are all handled in the same way. There is an attempt to switch things up by having a member of the village aid you, they will ride you and give you an additional skill, but it was not enough to keep the interest going. You also have the option of switching between Kumolo and Nimbe in the one player mode, both characters handle exactly the same and share the same abilities so I did not see much any reason to switch. I only did so if the character I was controlling happened to get stuck behind an object.
Unfortunately there isn’t much lasting appeal in Okabu. If you can get through one full play through, I don’t see the point in coming back for more. There are no alternate paths and, unless some DLC is in the pipelines for further down the line, no extra missions to complete. Anybody that plays through a second time will literally have the exact same experience all over again.
VERDICT: What starts out as a cute, fun adventure dwindles quickly, the colors, graphics, and music will draw you in but it isn’t enough to hold you. I do see it is aimed towrds teaching children about the enviornent but I don’t think it will hold their interest too long. Okabu has a good environmental message but it’s far from a whale of a time.