Honestly, I’ve never gotten the point of a Rorschach test.
There’s something about a random ink blot spilled by Mr. Rorschach himself that determines you mental stability, that just feels like nonsense. Maybe I’m looking too much into it, like the man who thinks that a ink blot semi-circle is actually a crab with no legs… what? Anyway, OVIVO, something barely relating to this stream of consciousness.
This is the debut title from Russian studio Theytakingahobbitstoizenhard, later shortened to IzHard. Formed in 2014, the trio made a concept for today’s title during a hackathon, and were surprised at the warm reception it had received, and from there, their dream continued, with one slight flaw: They were broke and inexperienced. Thankfully, they made the apt decision to participate in Microsoft’s “Imagine Cup” in 2015, and they only bloody went and won the thing, which granted them the opportunity to release OVIVO in a much more polished state. Stellar stuff, and an indication of the quality OVIVO radiates.
IzHard have stated that there’s a plot to be found in OVIVO, with it all being wordless, but I’m unfortunately gonna have to call bullshit on that. You’re a random ball named OVO that’s rolling across various abstract landscapes that are only colored black and white. All of the levels you’ll go through will show off very unnerving and interesting imagery, and that is arguably OVIVO’s greatest trait.
When you finish off levels, the game will zoom out and show you this amazingly intricate portrait of spirals, monsters and fauna. It’s quite detailed in how it looks, even if it’s mostly wasted by having the level just go from left to right instead of all around, but in all honesty, this kind of visual design does seem kind of misused.
Look, I’m not expecting to go through a level designed to play exactly like one of Claude Monet’s works, but it seems clear to me that the level was designed first, then the art was drawn around it. There’s nothing too terribly wrong about that, but it does debunk the argument that OVIVO much more aesthetically concrete than one might think. It felt like you were going to play through the artistic endeavors, as opposed to just letting them hang out, is all I’m saying.
Most of the time, IzHard do let the art wrap around the level itself to maintain a sense of symmetry and atmosphere, which is helped heavily by the music, which is composed by one Brokenkites. Everything sounds really abrasive through the filter used, making even the cleanest of piano notes sounding like they’ve tossed you from one side of the room to the other. It’s undefined, but then that feels like the point.
On the other hand, IzHard does play it a bit fast and loose with the imagery present in OVIVO, which may strengthen some arguments that the game is pretentious. One of the more prominent screenshots on some storefronts is OVO rolling past an “interpretation” of The Creation of Adam. It’ll flip-flop between the two colors, and also Adam and God’s fingers, and it’s not going to make you scream “ARTISTIC!”, it’s more that you’re going to roll your eyes and carry on.
As for the level design itself, it’s smart, and compliments the gameplay mechanics wonderfully. It’s dual-world gameplay revolving around the two colors of black and white, with the black pulling you up, and the white pushing you down. Various hazards will be present in the levels, mostly revolving around spiky things piercing OVO, but it’s how you navigate through the levels which is where OVIVO shines.
It’s quite similar to another platformer in the same moody vein: The Mooseman, which was also coincidentally published by OVIVO‘s publisher, Sometimes You. However, whereas The Mooseman was driven to provide you with a ethereal and tribal experience into unknown lands, with minimal focus on its dual-world gameplay, OVIVO is the opposite. Its sole intent is on making sure you can understand how you can manipulate its gravity with the tools given.
Flying pods which you can enter and control, gravity manipulators that mostly require timing, inverted controls and gravity– there are several ideas here fleshed out and given the limelight and player satisfaction necessary enough to not write OVIVO off as another arty-farty platformer. While visual design was obviously the objective here, it’s clear that compelling idea were also on IzHard’s to-do list.
For the most part, that is. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind why you have to collect random dots. There are various collectibles, seemingly scattershot across the levels, with only the “Story Symbols” having some vaguely tangible connection to the gameplay. Other than that, there are tens of dots all over the place in regular levels, and I don’t understand their purpose. Maybe it’s something to do with an Easter egg, I don’t know, the possible reward is not worth wading through this surreal mind-fuck.
The controls are exceptionally weighed down, possibly due to how much gravity has a role in your adventures. Your ball won’t be able to go up most inclines, with it instead relying on you switching dimensions in order to roll down the hills on the flip-side. Since the puzzles are all about trajectory, it’s more that you have to let gravity take your ball where you want to go, and it works, but I wish that the ball could be given a bit more speed to compensate for some of the gauntlets you have to push through.
There was one chase level in the 2nd world that made me grind my teeth a bit because of the controls. The dragon on the front cover decides that he wants to have OVO as a snack, which leads into you trying to outrun it and reach a safe gate before it eats you. This level will likely end up with you trying to gain momentum from the gravity and landing straight into his mouth, which is frustrating, especially when his speed will always match yours.
I wouldn’t say OVIVO is a completely wasted experience, as it’s certainly a challenge to overcome, as opposed to most arty platformers relying on either a wordless story or a mouthful. It’s certainly not going to outweigh the titans that are LIMBO, The Mooseman, and The Swapper, but it certainly could’ve done a lot worse. If we had reached a level of pedantic boredom not seen since The Bridge, then we would’ve had problems.
In the end, OVIVO is a nice addition to a sub-genre needing a little bit of a boost recently. It won’t replace your favorites, nor will it make you wish you never installed it, but it’s a nice bite-size experience to have. The aesthetic is unique enough and enveloping to make you stare in awe, the sense of accomplishment you get from some levels is gratifying, and the music is soothing, despite its scathing nature. IzHard went against the odds here, and it worked out wonderfully.
This Review of OVIVO was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
A beautiful and satisfying platformer with a mostly unique premise, with the developers biting off more than it can chew with how aesthetically important they believe OVIVO is.
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