With their debut game, Team Ocmo tried so very hard to solve the problem of mobile gaming. It’s the problem that’s existed since smartphones came to dominate with the iPhone: how do you create platformer-precise controls on a device with no buttons?
OCMO’s protagonist is a creature that blends the monochrome simplicity of World of Goo’s titular beings and the multi-tentacle movement of a squid. It moves with a mesmerising fluidity, expanding and contracting its tentacles to sequentially stick to surfaces and fling itself off of them. It moves well, and the tight level design makes for exciting manoeuvres, but the complicated controls often leave me banging my head against a stage that would be simple with a better input method.
Everything is executed with some variation of a tap or hold of the screen; tap on a surface to stick a tentacle to it, hold to contract, tap again to let go. That basic loop is simple enough, but the addition of walking, jumping, and numerous obstacles continuously make OCMO’s movement an all-too-frustrating exercise in imprecise screenmashing.
Following in the footsteps of games like Super Meat Boy, OCMO is chasing the hardcore platformer genre and adapting its concepts for the small screen. As such, it’s something of a completionist’s dream. Each level has 3 stars to earn, based on how quickly you beat it and whether or not you found a secret. Though progression through the stages only requires one star, the process of getting all three in certain stages felt poorly-balanced and grindy.
And therein lies another big problem with OCMO: There’s very little escalation in difficulty and the progression feels weighted against the player. Moving through the early stages, I felt like I’d been thrown in the deep end. The game could do with a few more basic stages at the start.
I find myself not so much dissatisfied with the game’s movement or level design, but frustrated that it doesn’t exist on a more suitable platform. OCMO would feel right at home on the Switch or Vita, or even PC. On mobile, it feels like the meticulous design is wasted, cramped on a claustrophobic screen that is constantly fighting back against me.
OCMO’s world is a stark and brutal industrial landscape, contrasting greys and deep blacks with bright, sickly yellows. Even the level select screen is a beautifully-crafted artscape illustrating the protagonist’s journey. A gorgeous hand-drawn style and fantastic physics-based animations are reason enough for this game to be a head-turner, but it’s the fact that it never missed a beat with its performance that truly impressed me.
So while OCMO is a menacingly beautiful world to move through, it falls short as a proper mobile platformer. When it works, it’s a consistently-satisfying time trial. But it doesn’t often work, and great art can’t carry a platformer at odds with its own input.
OCMO releases November 16th for iOS and Android. For the purposes of this review, Team Ocmo provided me with a review version.