I’m not quite sure what I expected with OK/Normal. To be fair, I had not seen the ‘horror’ or ‘surreal’ tags on its Steam store page, I only knew that its creator Toni Kortelahti, more widely known as 98Demake and for his interpretations of newer games as if they were made in the 90s, was quite excited to finally release his new game. This game is strange enough that reviewing it, coming up with words to describe it now that I’ve finished it, is difficult… but I’ll give it a go. Before I continue however, as a quick disclaimer I did receive this game from the developer himself for review.
There is no real clear place that this game takes place in, and I have no idea what this game is about. Perhaps I’m not observant, perhaps this game really isn’t about anything. It could be a fever dream, or maybe everything is analogous to something real, or personal to its creator. Maybe it’s not that deep, that everything held within OK/NORMAL is just an amalgamation of strange ideas and concepts. Whatever the case is, it’s confusing, and I honestly can’t say one way or the other whether it’s good or bad because I just can’t make heads or tails of it.
Throughout OK/Normal, you control a sliding statue that moves like a tank through differently colored levels while a tiny cloud accompanies you. White and grey checkered floors abound, as do black and red checkers, as well as some floors that look suspiciously like eyes, you’ll be hard pressed to make much sense of your surroundings through most of the game. Some disturbing shapes sometimes float around you, begging your attention silently without ever making a sound. Again, I am tempted to glean some meaning, but nothing ever really seems to fit together. Time doesn’t even seem to exist in this world, no one seems to have a name, all while the problems of our real world seem so distant from it. Almost like a dream… although possibly a nightmare.
You view OK/NORMAL through a surprisingly accurate imitation of an old CRT television screen, complete with the same aspect ratio of old tvs– you’ll get no widescreen view here. The resolution is low no matter your screen size, in a full on and successful attempt to really emulate that classic game experience.
The most remarkable effect that brings back so many memories, is an almost indescribable effect on surfaces throughout the game. If you’ve ever played a Playstation 1 game, you’d remember the strange walls and floors, moving, warping, or curving as your camera moved, and especially looking odd if the player camera got close. You honestly would have to have seen it to know what I’m talking about, as since it used to be a result of some technical limitations that have long since been overcome, you’re not likely to see this sort of thing anymore. Not many games on the PS1 could avoid that effect, and OK/Normal exceeds in emulating those strange and uncanny environmental oddities.
In a few segments of this game, I was baffled and frustrated. Many areas are mazelike and due to the simple approach to level design, most locations aren’t easy enough to differentiate from each other. A large portion of the time I spent playing was spent hitting dead ends that weren’t utilized for anything. I expected to be led into a false sense of security due to this, but never did a threat or surprise ever await once I met the end of an uneventful path. Nothing happens, your cloud companion says nothing about it, you just turn around and retrace your steps back to where you started.
Most of the game is more linear, and that’s when this game shines the most in its strange ways. These unused areas feel like fat that could have been trimmed before the final release. Otherwise, there are several spots where the imitated limits of an old PS1 game work to astonishing effect in such a way that attempting to describe it does it an injustice.
As far as sound design goes, for as long as you’re making progress, it’s pretty good. While its music isn’t my cup of tea and not really something I’d listen to in my spare time, it does well to set a vibe that would likely unnerve most players as they go along. Unfortunately, in getting stuck a few times, the music settles into nothing, so I dealt with long stints of nothing but the occasional sound of when I would impatiently jump around while looking to progress.
In the end, I do wish I were playing a more coherent game. With everything so disjointed and with nothing making much sense, I yearn for my old favorites on Playstation 1, like MediEvil or Crash Team Racing. The look of this game brings me back to those old titles, but the feel of it overall leaves a bit to be desired. Nevertheless, should 98Demake decide to pursue making more games in this retro pseudo-Playstation style, I’m eager to see what comes next.