By Aung (DrakosAmatras) . November 6, 2011 . 3:00pm
When I first heard the name “Okabu”, I honestly couldn’t make out what sort of game it would be — aside from a wild guess that it sounded like something related to a children’s tale. In a sense, it is. It’s about two ‘cloud whale’ brothers who come down to the surface looking for the source of the air pollution tainting their lands above the clouds, and team up with a native tribe to combat the threat.
You control the two cloud whale brothers “Kumulo” and “Nimbe” — named after the cumulonimbus cloud. They don’t speak, or show a wide range of emotions (but everyone seems to communicate with them just fine, so I guess it’s all right). Instead, the story is conveyed through dialogue from the natives, who speak in a way similar to the NPCs of Okami. The Yorubo are a peaceful native tribe who live with nature, and they’re under attack from another tribe called the Doza, which can create machines. It’s up to the brothers to help them, since the Doza machinery are also the source of the pollution in their land.
The idea of the game is very basic: Guide the cloud brothers to the end of the stage by clearing objectives and obstacles. They range from simple one-step solutions that require a single ability to multi-step processes which requires various abilities to solve, even occasionally incorporating timing. However, puzzles are quite easy to figure out and won’t pose a serious challenge. There are 20 stages in total, each of which gradually becomes more elaborate as you go on.
The two brothers, made of (children’s tales’ version of) cloud, can do pretty much what you’d expect giant lumps of cotton to do, and then some more. They can absorb various liquids and either shoot it out or rain down. They can also suck in certain fruits from trees and shoot them out as bullets. Last, but not least, they can let some characters with special abilities board them and use those abilities from atop. In fact, you’ll spend more time using these characters’ abilities than the brothers’ own.
Each brother can only do one of these three things at a time, though, which requires you to think a bit about who will handle what task. Luckily, both have identical capabilities, so you can use them interchangeably.
There are four persons that can board the brothers’ backs and lend them their power. Captain Monkfish the sailor can latch onto and pull virtually anything (that he has the strength for) with his plunger harpoon, like pulling open doors or dragging around objects. Piccolo the farmer can communicate with various animals through his music — and people too, for some reason. Roki, a Doza defector, can control some Doza machinery with his short-range wireless device. Kat can command his small pet monkey Kudu to handle minute tasks, such as attaching small cables or turning a hamster wheel.
All the stages are a string of puzzles at heart. Stage 1, the introductory stage, makes sure that you get enough use of the brothers’ abilities: absorbing water. Stage 2 introduces Monkfish with his “grappling hook,” which adds another layer of latching on and pulling various objects like drawbridges, doors or waste barrels out of ponds (which the brothers cannot draw water from).
The complexity rises significantly after Piccolo is introduced. One particularly long objective goes like this: You need to restock the barn with grains. For that, you need to clear the armored Dozabot by commanding a bull to charge at it, command the farm helper to open the shed, pull the seeding cart all over the field, rain water down on it, pull the fruit to the machine, make the bull run on the treadmill to power it, pull the lever and then finally pull the grain sack back to the barn.
Each stage has 4 optional ‘Medals’ to aim for. First is the Cloudberry Medal; Cloudberries are small fruits that look like orange strawberries that you can get from pretty much anywhere — off the ground or from defeated enemies. Second is the Time Medal, basically for quick stage clears. Third is the Egg Medal which requires you to seek out three hidden eggs in each stage. The fourth is the Dozabot Medal, which you can get by defeating all the enemies in each stage. There are also PS3 Trophies based on how many times you’ve done the required action, like how many Cloudberries you’ve collected or how many Dozabots you’ve defeated throughout the whole game.
Okabu is a really, really simple game that doesn’t require much explanation, especially since all the necessary information is presented as you play. So for those wondering what kind of game this is, let me summarize it thus: It’s like the easygoing pace and difficulty of Lego videogames, the visual charm of The Wind Waker, and a little bit of helicopter sim rolled up into a cute game.
Food for thought:
1. There is an offline 2-player mode where a second player can join and leave at will. In this mode, the two brothers are controlled by each player, so you can’t swap control to another brother like in single-player mode. The only drawback is the “screen-lock” where one player can’t leave the screen unless the other follows him.
2. The soundtrack is based on (African?) tribal music, and sounds pretty catchy. The tracks aren’t very long themselves, but the game circumvents this by having multiple tracks. The story takes place throughout 4 areas (5 stages each), and each area houses a different set of tracks.
3. You can’t die in this game. When you get hit by an enemy projectile, you get knocked down to the ground for a second, drops 5 Cloudberries (which you can quickly pick up again), and whoever’s riding you gets transported to a checkpoint called “Sanctuary Tree”. All you lose in practice is merely some time.