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Okabu preview: Not quite floating in the clouds


Based out of London, HandCircus is responsible for the celebrated iOS game Rolando and its sequel. During GDC, I met with representatives from the studio to play Okabu, the developer's first console title, a PSN exclusive, following its mobile breakout.

Like Rolando, Okabu is overbearingly cute with bright contrasting colors and cuddly characters. And that's pretty much where the comparison ends.

Gallery: Okabu | 5 Photos

The actual gameplay of Okabu is centered around controlling two clouds, "Kumulo" and
"Nimbe" (like the cumulonimbus cloud -- geddit?), from an isometric perspective, solving environmental-themed puzzles and collecting various items along the way. It's lighter fare than Rolando and seemingly aimed at younger gamers.

As I rolled around the levels (as clouds do), I gathered various enablers -- NPCs that happily hop aboard and bring with them certain abilities -- on the clouds. One button allows switching between the two clouds, allowing a single player to juggle multiple NPCs, or two players can work together.

The NPCs enable different actions -- like a shootable plunger to pull various objects, or a musician that attracts and leads villagers to complete objectives (or to their doom, of course) -- while the clouds themselves are able to absorb liquids and redistribute them -- like using water to put out a fire, or oil to lead one. In general, the puzzle concepts were pretty basic and fairly uninteresting. Perhaps neat for younger players, but what I tried was lacking in gameplay depth and challenge.

As allued to earlier, Okabu features a (local only) co-op mode for the main campaign. This turns a straightforward kids game into a kids game with two people occasionally shouting at each other on the couch.

It could be excused by the fact that Okabu is still early in development, but I'm not convinced that the game will even deliver with children. There's a lot of work to be done to tighten up the loose-feeling controls and flesh out the puzzles, which became redundant even in the short time I played the game. The good news is there's plenty of time for HandCircus to clear up this cloudy forecast before Okabu's planned summer launch.

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