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Okabu makes a great first impression. It’s got a colorful and weird art style, like something you’d see in a children’s book illustrated by the United Nations, a refreshingly odd and family-friendly story about helping the environment, and some super catchy music. It assaults you with its cheerfulness, and like that cute little girl selling cookies outside the grocery store, it’s hard to walk away from. Unfortunately this excellent first impression doesn’t carry it all the way through the lengthy bug-filled campaign.
In Okabu you play as a pair of cloud whales on a mission to stop the polluting Doza clan. You float around with speedy precision helping the locals clean up the place with your magical cloud powers. Soak in water and you can pour benevolent rain on plants or squirt evil Doza machines. You can also suck up fruit from trees and spit it at breakable objects and enemies. To augment your cloud abilities you’ll gain access to riders every few levels. These guys have special skills like a plunger tether or a flute that causes animals and people to follow you. There’s an environmentally friendly slant to the proceedings, but it’s never heavy handed. Okabu is all bright and cheery enthusiasm, with a touch of cheeky humor.
Above: The bright storybook presentation really sells the (totally weird) hat-wearing pollution-fighting cloud whale heroes of Okabu
Structurally Okabu is similar to the ubiquitous LEGO themed games. You’ll jump into a level from a colorful hub world and take on a variety of environmentally focused tasks. There’s no real penalty for dying and each level is packed with a ridiculous number of collectibles. The levels grow in length and complexity as you add more cloud riders and abilities. Within a few hours you’ll be swapping riders and clouds constantly as you labor through levels that can take up to 45 minutes to complete. And it’s here that the game’s initial charm starts to fade.
The levels present little challenge, with most solutions being spelled out via cute diagrams and large arrows. It might be helpful for kids, but most adults are going to find it mind-numbingly tedious. You’ll know what your end goal is within minutes of starting a level, but you’ll have to slog through dozens of tiny tasks before you’re able to complete it. The later levels come stacked with enemies, all of which shoot heat seeking missiles. These guys can only be killed by special attacks that you don’t always have access to. While dying doesn’t set you back in the game, it does knock your rider off, which means you’ll have to travel across the level to the nearest respawn tree to pick him up. The constant backtracking is frustrating and it kills the pace of progress.
Then there are the bugs. Okabu is plagued with skipping audio problems that require a restart to resolve. Sometimes one of your clouds will get stuck in the level geometry, usually because the unmovable camera didn’t give you the best view of the action. Enemy respawns are inconsistent - sometimes they’re gone for good and other times they come back quicker than you can spin around. The most frustrating bug ignores completed objectives, which means you have to do that 45 minute level all over again and hope that the right behind-the-scenes triggers are activated. Not fun!
Above: This cloud rider has the power to mesmerize chickens, goats, bulls and people using his strange flute thing and his obvious good looks
There’s a good foundation here and some simple fun to be had if you’re willing to put up with the bugs and methodical pace. A second player can drop in at any time and take control of the other cloud. Playing with two people will definitely slow your progress, but the constant communication and cooperation required makes for an enjoyable partnering experience. There are also some competitive minigames to play locally or online – but they’re an amusing distraction at best. With close to a zillion things for you to collect in every level, there’s a tremendous amount of replay value for completists. There’s a lot of game in here for just 15 bucks. If you like the way the LEGO games play, but you’ve had enough of those little bricks, Okabu might scratch that itch. It’s hard to deny its colorful charm, even if the game underneath is rough around the edges.