At a time when we’re constantly being reminded how everything we do is seemingly destroying our environment, Okabu isn’t the first (and certainly won’t be the last) title to build on that theme.
In the opening sequence the two cloud whales Kumulo and Nimbe (think rather nondescript clouds that require hats to tell them apart) are knocked out of the sky by toxic industrial plumes. Near grounded from the encounter they decide to tackle the situation head on, helping the more eco-friendly dwellers fight back against the polluting Doza whose machinery is responsible for messing things up.
The player can take control of either cloud whale throughout the game but whichever you choose is ultimately made rather redundant, since they play exactly the same. While Okabu can be tackled via local co-op, the other cloud is ever present in single player too with the AI in control. In actuality `control` is very much a loose sense of the word, since they don’t seem to do anything other than aimlessly mill about.
The player must sweep around the stage solving various environment base puzzles and collecting items to unlock the next areas. Using the cloud whale’s abilities to soak up water from rivers and puddles it can then be squeeze out as rain to put out fires, or grow plants (although you won’t be able to escape the slightly unsavoury feeling there’s a massive urination sub-text to it all). Or they can use the water to spit into rivers to try and herd fish in to a particular area. Or fire nuts to break stone targets. It’s all a little bit surreal amongst being told to go here and find a person, before being told to go a few meters in another direction and find another person, repeat ad nauseam.
Because they’re just clouds and can’t do much else except shoot water (or nuts…) at everything, additional skills are gained by letting different inhabitants ride around on you and then utilising their skills to open up new routes by pulling down obstacles or attacking enemies.
The games gentle pace and sedate nature is maintained for its entirety and it’s one that marries up with the colourful, bouncy art style. With the use of the same flat colour palette it’s easy to draw comparisons to perennial PSP favourite Locoroco and it feels like Okabu should have ended up as endearing and charming. Unfortunately, and in a crushing blow to something so vested in its looks, this isn’t the case.
Scratch beneath the surface and you find that the colourful veneer is just a wafer thin coating to a rather soulless interior. There’s little to endear you to characters that, despite their cheery nature, ultimately seem devoid of any real charm or personality.
The extent of trying to force any sense of allure on the player seems to extend to (and the cloud whales are a good example of this) putting a jaunty little hat on them. It’s never enough to make them appear like anything more than just two dimensional foot notes.
The resulting sensation does little to help the player overlook some of the technical problems with the game. The controls feel `floaty` but the irony of that in a game where you play as a cloud sadly doesn’t seem like intentional design. While guiding the whales around the level is speedy it can be hit and miss; sometimes they’ll scoot over everything and then other times they get snagged on bits of scenery or level geometry.
Although a more sedate pace in a game can be a welcomed distraction on times, in Okabu it just feels boring. The puzzles never really progress and you’ll end up repeatedly doing the same things an hour or two into the game that you were doing at the start.
While that’s being touted here as a negative, if you’re in the frame of mind for something where you can just switch off and doesn’t require any thought, then this may help you while away a couple of hours. Alternatively if you’re looking for an inoffensive title to park the kids in front of then this will fit the bill (but lets be honest, most kids as too busy upping the kill ratio on Call of Duty to worry about this type of thing).
However, if neither of those criteria fit, then Okabu is left feeling like a wasted opportunity with very little to recommend it.