Okabu

Cloud Strife

Okabu can bridge the gaming generation gap if you give it a chance.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: November 6, 2011
Here's the thing about HaNdcircus' newest game, Okabu. It's not REALLY designed for you if you are reading this. Sure, the adorable little puzzle game is a good time for any gamer that doesn't take him/herself too seriously, but it's also quite easy and slow-paced. Now, if you have a younger gamer in your life, this is pretty much the perfect game to play along with them, as both the look and the control is really conducive to the little 'uns. I played through a great deal of Okabu with my 5 year old daughter Mara, and not only was she able to pitch in and play, but she (and I) had a great time doing it.


If you've seen Handcircus' previous iOS game Rolando, you'll already be familiar with the charming art-style that oozes a "hand-drawn" vibe. Okabu tells the tale of "Cloud Whales" Kumulo and Nimbe who happen upon a village that is under attack from some evil toaster objects known as "Doza". Being that they are clouds and all, Kumulo and Nimbe's main form of interacting with the world is by absorbing water from the land and redistributing where needed. Each level will have a few villagers in distress who require your help in liberating the area and allowing them to return to their normal village-y way of life. Someone might need you to water some crops, another fellow will need his boat dragged back to shore, and more than a few folks will need some of those pesky Doza removed.

Early on, your powers are limited to absorbing water to make it rain or shoot a stream of water out of your mouth, or absorbing acorns (Okabu's version of the ubiquitous "coins") and spitting them out. As you advance through the 30 or so levels, you'll gradually unlock additional talents, often gained through letting a rider on your back. These riders can perform a variety of functions for you, letting you manipulate stuff in a way that simply isn't practical for a Cloud Whale. Whether you play alone or with a friend (local only) both Kumulo and Nimbe will be needed to solve many of the puzzles, and you can seamlessly switch between the two as you play, so don't think the game is crippled if you play alone.

Eventually the problems become more complex, and the villagers' issues become a bit more dire, but the mood remains fairly light throughout, as does the gameplay. There is no denying the game holds your hand pretty heavily, and while there is a pretty good array of powers unlocked later in the game, you're never really tasked with needing more than two or three to overcome any obstacles. You also can't die; if you take enough damage from the few hazards that have the ability to harm the Cloud Whales then you drop a few acorns and blink a bit, none the worse for wear. I'd venture to say that an avid gamer will play the game straight through without getting hung up at any point. Don't let that stop you from enjoying it in the same way you would if you were playing something along the lines of Flower or Noby Noby Boy, although Okabu is much more structured than those games. Its closest comparison is an Okami for the kindergarten crowd.

The true joy will come if you can appreciate a "kids" game that will be most memorable for the soft, almost water-colored graphics and the amazingly appropriate tribal rhythms that punctuate the game. My daughter is still in love with this game, and every time we play she is mesmerized by imagery that wouldn't be out of place in a Miyizaki film. She hangs on every bit of the eco-friendly dialogue, reading each word out loud to me and showing grave concern at the village's plight. The controls are simple enough that she can play along just fine with a minimal amount of coaching and only very rarely do I have to take over her controls myself. Sure, I do most of the heavy lifting, but even at her tender age there is a fair amount of content and problem-solving that she can grasp and she's always contributing significantly to the solution. I'm sure any 7 or 8 year old could easily play this game around an older gamer and be an equal partner.

When you compare "kids" games, Okabu obliterates the "franchise" kids games like How To Train Your Dragon or anything based on a Disney/Pixar movie. Okabu has no franchise to sell, no overly-marketed characters to push, none of those built-in contrivances that cheapen the game and make it feel like a marketing tool to enrapture impressionable minds to the great capitalist hive. It's the "Occupy Wall Street" of video games, only the old, pure Occupy Wall Street of last month, not this new hipster version. I can feel good about my daughter playing Okabu, much the same way as I could when we played Limbo, more so since now the mood is unabashedly lighter.

So there you have it. If you are looking for something a bit offbeat that is a pleasure to look at, Okabu, might be for you. If you've got an impressionable budding gamer in the house, Okabu is the sort of game you can give them to play without feeling guilty. Sure, it's a simple puzzle-platformer sort of game, but it changes things up just enough to keep things fresh all the way through. I'm officially interested in the next project from Handcircus, whatever it turns out to be.
The Verdict
8.5

Yes, it's a kids game at the core. So what? We could all stand to relax more, and Okabu provides a classy and gorgeous way to do just that. There is no better game to play with a young child than this one. My daughter would give it 10.

9.0Graphics:

The unique look of the game is a sizable part of the charm, with every model looking like it was painstakingly crafted by hand. The only downside is that there isn't as much variety as you'd life.

8.0Sound:

Clouds are pretty quiet, and there isn't any spoken dialogue, but there is some well-suited tribal music that sets the tone for the entire game.

8.0Control:

The controls remain simple, although at times it is important to pay attention to your shadow when trying to dive into smaller puddles. There were one or two times I got stuck in the environment and it took a lot of wiggling to get free.

8.5Gameplay:

It's a very simple game with very little danger, and clearly it's at least somewhat targeted at kids. That doesn't mean it can't be a great game, and there is enough variety in the puzzle action to prevent the game from being too repetitive. Great co-op.