Release Date: August 6, 2013
ESRB: E for Everyone
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review.
Note: Similar to the nature of the co-op gameplay in Ibb & Obb, we decided to tackle this review with two people. As such, the body of the review is mostly written by Marcus Estrada, while the blue text added indicates Jason Clement's thoughts on the game as well.
It seems there is a new found resurgence in co-op gameplay as of late. First we saw the indie debut of Wyv & Keep and now we“ve got another game by the name of Ibb & Obb. Of course, aside from similar naming and two player co-op functionality, the two games are completely different. So let“s get into what exactly Ibb & Obb is and what makes it a uniquely fun experience!
Ibb & Obb is a physics-based puzzle platformer with some real charm. In the game, you play as one of two Pac-Man ghost-like characters (the resemblance is definitely there, though I would also say they are very gumdrop-like as well), and though the game is especially designed for co-op, you can control both if you are alone. The two little characters must traverse through attractively-designed locations and make it through a series of puzzles.
These puzzles represent the main unique draw behind the game, in that they play mainly on polarity and gravity while also drawing on the power of teamwork between the two characters. Each of the levels are divided by a playing field line where traveling above it results in a normal, rightside-up plane, and traveling below it results in an opposite, upside down plane. Both characters are able to traverse between the two planes by means of white portals.
In the path of Ibb and Obb are often portals which can only be accessed by one or the other. The green or pink beings have associated doorways (that correspond to their color) which only they may enter or exit. Oftentimes you may need to hoist another player up to an area (that is otherwise out of reach), jump off platforms to increase momentum as you speed through a pathway, or even just carefully tread through enemy-infested territory to the other end. Puzzles are clumped up into different areas and offer save points at the end of each level. As players progress further, new concepts are added to the puzzle mechanics. Of course, puzzles increase in complexity as well.
Each character is controlled with an analog stick on the PS3 controller. When playing with a friend in either local or online co-op, this is pretty easy to handle. However, if you“re hitting up the adventure solo, then be prepared for some seriously infuriating moments. Honestly, some puzzles require such precision timing for two players that they are even more demanding on a single player. After all, by yourself you have to negotiate and carry out your plans with pinpoint accuracy on two characters instead of just one.
I decided to try a few levels on single-player to see just how different the game plays when you're responsible for controlling both characters. While it's definitely playable in solo mode, the learning curve here is steep. Even though I only played through the first two levels this way, I can't imagine playing through some of the later, extremely difficult levels that require precise movements in most cases, as Marcus mentioned. Because of this, the game is best played with another player, whether it's a friend or a random person online. Playing solo is better left as a challenge to complete after you finish the game at least once.
Regardless of play mode, all fifteen levels and their puzzles remain the same. One of the hardest things to handle with a single player is taking care of enemies. Monstrous beings such as spiky birds or saws pepper the landscape at times, tempting you to fail a jump or run too slow. You“ll immediately notice that these beings are colored black and white in a 50/50 split. This is due to Ibb & Obb“s playfield including the top world as well as the underside of levels. Yes, sometimes you“ll be playing the game in a standard, upright platformer style while other times you“ll be platforming upside down on the lower half of the screen.
Initially, playing on the reverse polarity (or lower half) was incredibly difficult - at least for me! My mind had to work extra hard to work out how exactly to jump and move when my character was hanging out upside down, but it isn“t as hard as you might think. One great design choice was to make sure that, even when upside down, pressing left still moves the character to the left side of the screen and the like. You simply have to get accustomed to experiencing platforming from a different perspective.
There“s a good mix of puzzles you“ll fly through as well as ones that will tax the minds of one or both players. One helpful (but not quite helpful enough) feature in co-op is the ability to draw with a continuous line on screen. Need to direct a player to go and jump off a certain platform? Simply draw a line pointing there on the screen to get their attention. Of course, this feature requires both players to be of the same mindset for what various markings might mean. Drawing a series of loops across the level might make perfect sense to you but utterly confound your partner. No voice chat is available so either get good at scribbling on screen or seek out a secondary mode of conversation if it“s not local co-op.
This was an interesting aspect of the game, as there were times when we would use the drawing line to direct the other, and for the most part, we did understand what each meant for the other to do, but there were definitely times where one of us just didn't get it. There were also points at which a puzzle was so tough and required so much thinking that one of us had to coordinate with the other by outside means on what to do (unfortunately, this means we did have to resort to instant messaging each other at certain points, much to the chagrin of what the game was likely hoping to achieve with voiceless communication).
One other unfortunate aspect of online co-op is the fact that a certain amount of lag is present. This is the downfall of many modern online games and can never be entirely stomped out. Between two fairly good internet connections, I found that my game still showed some lag with syncing my partner“s actions. In some games this may not be a huge deal but it is problematic here when you“re trying to synchronize jumps or a variety of other time-based actions. The lag wasn“t continuous through play but did seem more prevalent in certain areas.
I seemed to experience a little bit less lag than Marcus did, but it was still definitely something that happened at certain points. It was never so bad that it prevented us from getting past certain parts, but it did make things more difficult. Fortunately, it wasn't too common.
Probably the strangest design misstep in the game occurs during parts where players must jump to great heights to reach the next area. At some points, you can jump high enough where when you change polarity into the opposite plane, you fly out of the visible gameplay screen. This is a huge issue as you do not get enough time to see where your character is as they plummet back down. Usually these massive jumps are followed by a need to land on a specific spot and you“re not going to be able to do that easily when having to guestimate their landing position.
Of course, gameplay is not the only aspect of Ibb & Obb; the visual design is quite fantastic as well. It may not look like much in screenshots, but playing through the game on PS3 is quite the experience. The minimalistic design is attractive as are the various worlds to come across throughout. Although enemy designs never get very interesting, level design sure does and feels progressively more epic the further you go. The developers definitely have an excellent grasp on understanding of color and paint levels to appeal to players. Visually, it simply doesn“t look like any other platformer out there.
I concur with Marcus on this point as well; the visuals are stunning and a joy to look at it. Ibb & Obb is a great example of the "less is more" adage, opting for a simple look, yet infusing the design with a plethora of gorgeous colors and gradients. One level in particular that really stood out has the entire level turn dark, with Ibb and Obb glowing and providing an aura of light around each of their bodies in order to light the way. The resulting level is like few things I've experienced before.
Audio is another high point of the game. Composer Kettel provides a soundtrack which meshes perfectly with the minimalism present in visual design. Often quiet and reserved, players will likely be drawn further into the game without even realizing it thanks to the music. If you take the time to listen to it without focusing all your attention on puzzles then you“ll be able to recognize just how good it is as well. If the soundtrack is made available for purchase it comes highly recommended from me (thankfully, Sparpweed has confirmed to me that the OST is indeed on the way!).
Like last year's Journey, the music is a pretty defining aspect of the game; it really does marry well with the gameplay itself. If you're into electronic groups like Boards of Canada, you'll be quite at home with the tunes found here.
Ibb & Obb is a primarily good experience marred primarily by technical issues outside of their control. Even though some puzzles are incredibly cruel, they all are defeatable. If anything, the game might just be too difficult for players determined to go it solo. All things considered, Sparpweed probably didn“t even need to create a single player mode considering the game seems defined by its co-op. With that said, if you have a friend willing to go through Ibb & Obb with you then definitely check it out. In this incredibly full genre of puzzle platformers, Sparpweed accomplished the difficult task of making a fun, stylish platformer which stands out.
Time is a precious commodity in this day and age, and with many of us being so busy, I don't give my time freely to just any game. This means I'll only play the indie games that really stand out as different. As such, I'm happy to say that Ibb & Obb is absolutely one of those games, and not only that, but it's also one of the most unique and memorable experiences I've had so far this year. It isn't perfect in every regard (and really, what game is?), but if you love platformers, physics-based puzzlers, unique games, or all of the above, you definitely owe it to yourself to check out Ibb & Obb.
+ Interesting mix of easy, medium, and difficult puzzles designed for two players
+ Awesomely simple visuals
+ Great soundtrack accompanying gameplay
- Not going to be the kind of game you want to play alone
- Lag can mess up important puzzle timing
- Screen sometimes fails to show both players
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Ibb & Obb is a fun, if sometimes confounding, puzzle platformer that will easily keep you and a friend entertained as you progress through a multitude of puzzles.