Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ookibloks: When you collab with the game.

I went to college with this guy. Okay, I went to college with a bunch of guys and girls, but we're boiling it down. There was this one guy I went to college with, and after we both graduated I'd go over to his house and draw while he programmed indie flight simulators and God knows what else. It was hardly a surprise to me when he upped sticks to Japan and started working on game franchises I'd actually heard of and played.

Recently, he alerted me to Ookibloks, a game he worked on, asking if I'd like to give it a go for review purposes. Now, full disclosure, I am a clumsy gamer. I can improve. I'm all right on tactical turn-based stuff. But when speed and agility come into play, I'm not so hot. Nonetheless, it looked adorable, so I figured I'd bite the bullet and risk embarrassment to have a go at it.

This is genuinely one of the cleverest li'l games I've seen come out of Steam in a long time. And I work for a company that distributes games via Steam.

It's probably easier to show you what Ookibloks is rather than try to explain the gameplay fully. You play as a cute little monkey, bouncing around blocks laid out in various tropical island settings, collecting bananas and avoiding (or knocking out) monsters as you go. At the end of each set of levels is a big bad boss.

First thing that jumped out at me about the design was how Japanese-inspired a lot of the imagery was -- both anime and traditional folklore characters. The names were a bit cute, too -- a flaming phoenix named Yacky Tori was amongst the aforementioned big bad bosses. It's very child-friendly visually, which is nice since it's also child-friendly in terms of gameplay. Minus menu selection, you play with four keys and that's it.

Of course, easy gameplay always leads to proper big challenges the further you get, and that's no exception here. The levels get creative with the addition of differently-functioning blocks, underwater segments, warps, and (my bane) an open playing field that allows you to fly off the screen if you stop paying attention for a bit.

All this is great, and makes for a fun challenge that's cute to look at. But you may have noticed in the video above that Ookibloks was nominated for an Excellence in Audio award. I'll let them explain why.

The tl;dr of this is that where most video game sound effects occur independent of the music and are their own sound experience, the sound effects in Ookibloks are tweaked ever-so-slightly both timing-wise and key-wise so that they become another layer of the music. You don't necessarily notice this as you're learning and thus going a bit slowly, but the better you get, the more you realise that you're actually jamming along with the soundtrack. And the better you do, the cooler it sounds. This is especially evident in Banana Chase mode, where you rack up combos as quickly as possible.

As an aside, I am a proud Alienware mom, and both my desktop and laptop are such. I played Ookibloks on my laptop because I didn't have my new desktop yet, and I was delighted to see that the various levels would hijack my Alienware lights to match the theme -- and then go red for a boss battle. Very well done.

Ookibloks is $5 on Steam, which is pretty cheap for the amount of gameplay you get out of it. Story Mode is pretty involved, especially if your learning curve is anything like mine. And it's absolutely adorable, and something you can hand off to pretty much anyone in your family.

Pick up Ookibloks on Steam.