Common tasks in many of today's video games generally include shooting dudes in the face, stomping on baddies, and hacking away at enemies with a sword of some sort. Recycling and cleaning up the environment aren't your typical video game objectives. Well, except for that one Mario game that came out a few years ago. Developer HandCircus has attempted to make environmental clean-up fun in Okabu, its latest project and first console game. Thankfully, with the exception of a few rough patches, this PlayStation Network exclusive succeeds.
Okabu stars two cloud whale siblings named Kumulo and Nimbe. The two have been tasked with saving the world from the sinister Doza, a race of robots intent on polluting everything around them. As Kumulo and Nimbe, it is your job to clean up various bodies of water, scrub some oil stains, rescue innocent people, and take down those pesky Doza jerks. At first, it may seem as though these objectives are mundane, but stick with the game a bit and you'll find yourself engaged in a surprisingly enthralling experience.
Your whale-shaped protagonists have a couple of abilites that they can employ to play the role of pollution police. They can dunk themselves in water and pour some droplets on a plant to make it grow. They can spray the Doza to defeat them so long as their enemies' defenses are low. They can even utilize oil in much the same way to cause small fires that help in solving specific puzzles. You can switch between the two siblings with the press of a button, and while you may think that these two characters are identical, you soon learn their individual worth.
As you adventure through Okabu's colorful world, you encounter several groups of village folk. Many of these request that you help clean up their area, and along the way, a few of them will join you. Each of these characters has his or her own special abilities. One of them uses a plunger to grab nearby objects and hit switches. Another can play a lovely melody that guides other villagers and animals, which is often useful for opening doors and breaking down barriers. One of your new found comrades can even take control of different machines.
The abilities you earn as a result of your various partnerships are detrimental to your success in the game. Unfortunately, the game's objectives can sometimes be a bit overbearing. You progress through each stage by completing a string of tasks. The flow of each stage relies on your ability to complete all of the required objectives, and these are often pretty simple. Sometimes this can be a bit of a problem because the game never becomes complex enough to offer you a rewarding challenge. Other times, even though you're aware of what to do next, it can be hard figuring out where to start. This can lead to a bit of frustration and a lot of aimless searching.
Another issue that tends to be problematic in Okabu is the placement of some objects in relation to the game's physics. This is mostly a nuisance when you're controlling large machines. Driving these around the large fields requires that you manuever around boulders, blocks, and trees. You can get stuck on these objects and as a result lose control of your machine, which can tilt and tip over, causing you unnecessary irritation.
Even with the frustration issue and the simplicity of the in-game tasks, Okabu manages to be an engaging and addictive experience. When you've got two helper buddies sitting on the cloud whales, offering their special abilities, it's a total blast switching between them as you drag explosives with your plunger or guide some other characters to their desired location. As long as you're moving smoothly between these multiple duties, Okabu can be a really satisfying experience that makes you want to keep going. And with lengthy stages that can last you about 20 minutes to clear, being interested in what you're doing is pivotal. So while you do get stuck at times, slightly hindering the overall experience, the moments when you can freely roam and complete each level's workload are incredibly enjoyable affairs.
Getting through the main campaign in Okabu will take you roughly eight hours, but scattered throughout the stages are a number of collectibles. Finding all of these can be pretty challenging, and these optional missions really hark back to one of my personal favorite eras in gaming, the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 generation. I found the collection aspect of Okabu to be very rewarding, and there were times when I wanted to forget about the game's main objectives and stick to grabbing hidden objects. These efforts are rewared with medals and PSN Trophies, so if you take the time to do everything in Okabu, you'll get some neat spoils. Oh, and if you feel like taking a buddy along for the ride, you can do so in local two-player co-op. If you want a little something extra, you can also engage in a handful of endless mini-games for good measure.
One element in Okabu that's worthy of seemingly endless praise is the game's presentation. With the exception of a few miniscule hiccups, Okabu features a beautiful art style. Everything has a clean cel-shaded look that's on par with past titles from HandCircus. Environments are vibrant and rich with aesthetic charm, and the game's many characters are just plain adorable. The sound design doesn't fall behind, and as you play through Okabu, you're treated to an impressive collection of authentic African-inspired tunes. The songs in the game are catchy, enjoyable, and to put it bluntly, they're just freaking awesome.
Ultimately, Okabu's main flaws are the simplicity of its objectives and the confusion that they sometimes cause. That said, there's still a worthwhile adventure here, and if you're willing to deal with a few bumps along the road, you're bound to have a good time with Okabu. That's just the kind of game it is. With visuals that are so lush and appealing, characters that are absolutely charming and lovable, and a soundtrack that's completely amazing, it would be foolish to miss out on this quest for environmental cleanliness. Yes, you'll run into some nagging difficulty. But will you have a good time? Definitely!