Oozi: Earth Adventure

Oozi: Earth Adventure is something of an anomaly in the landscape of modern 2D platformers, in that it’s neither an indie art piece nor a retro throwback. It is, for better or worse, a modern and original platformer and proud of its status as such. It does not innovate, and it does not specifically recall any past era in gaming. Its visuals are utterly modern, its main character is not immediately evocative of any past hero, and there are no surprises. There is jumping, double-jumping, wall-jumping, and even the occasional punch.

It is a platformer. It is a game. It is mindless escapism and lots of it.

Oozi has actually existed in some form for over two years, its first episode appearing on the Xbox Live Indie Games network in early 2011. Three more episodes have appeared since then, and now all four episodes have been compiled for release on PC for a price that feels utterly reasonable if you ignore the fact that buying it on the Xbox would have cost less than half as much.

In general, it’s fine. There are five levels and a boss battle in each episode, and the levels are utterly huge, meaning there will be lots of play time here for your money. The supremely difficult challenge levels add to this tally as well, offering gameplay that exists outside the story for those looking for more once they plow their way through to the end.

The problem, as it often is in a platformer, is in the implementation of the platforming mechanic. Mario, Sonic, Crash, Jak, Daxter, Sly Cooper, Klonoa . . . all of these characters have predictable movement patterns that seem to flow from fingers to screen. Maybe it’s his shape, maybe it’s his tiny little legs, but pinpoint control with little Oozi feels more difficult than it should. Most of the issue is in the turnaround. In forcing a split-second animation to finish before Oozi actually starts moving in the direction that you’re pushing the controller, the developers have made jumping from a standstill a tricky proposition. There is a tricky timing to making Oozi make a jump that’s predominantly left-to-right rather than straight up-and-down, and it doesn’t feel like there should be, not in a game where you can bend a jump Mario-style, not in a game in which the protagonist stops on a dime when you let go of the controller.

This isn’t an insurmountable problem. Enough time with Oozi, and the player does learn the movement patterns and can make those pinpoint jumps and tricky maneuvers. Where the real problems begin is when you learn the double jump.

Specifically, there’s a glitch.

When you do the second jump of a double jump, about half the time it looks as though the screen mirrors for a split second and then goes back to the jump. There’s no discernible pattern for when this happens. Sometimes it’s a quick flash. Other times, it’s a full disorienting half-second or so. A half-second doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re trying to land on a tiny little platform, it’s enough of a disruption to result in a quick death. Once it happens enough, you actually start to expect it, too, which makes it a problem even when it doesn’t happen.

Eventually, the glitches expand, to the point where on the fifth stage of the second world, merely walking seems to trigger skips and hiccups. The good news is that this is the worst of it, and the boss battle and the radioactive lab / alien world stages that follow run relatively smoothly when you’re not double-jumping. The cave — and particularly the later stages of it — though, are brutal as a result of glitches, and while they can be played through, it really kills the motivation to want to.

So it’s buggy. Maybe that can be fixed. Even if it is, though, it’s hard to see anything other than a cute art style that separates it from any other platformer out there. The level design is all right, but it quickly becomes predictable, essentially existing as a straight line with five small forks in the road for picking up hidden stars that open up bonus levels. The controls are adequate but flawed. The story is quirky but essentially nonexistent. Perhaps the one thing that makes Oozi stand apart is pure length — it’s one of the longest platformers in recent memory, likely due largely to its previous life as an episodic adventure — but even that is a mixed blessing in a game that has trouble engaging its player.

With a few bugfixes, Oozi: Earth Adventure would be a solid candidate for a Steam Greenlight, which it is pushing hard for if the splash screen before the game begins is any indication. At the very least, it has the look of a polished game. It’s too bad it doesn’t always play like one.

RATING 4 / 10