Oozi: Earth Adventure ReviewJoe Shaffer
Lately I've been finding it difficult to enjoy faux-retro titles, especially 2D platformers. It could be that I've been a fan of the platformer genre since the early '80s and have played way too many of them over the years. Of course, it could also be that I've plowed through a slew of throwback platformers since 2010. In any case, it doesn't help that developers of such titles seem to be reluctant to offer even a modicum of innovation. The result: numerous releases that are little more than collections of genre tropes and familiar stage devices, making it difficult to give any single title a recommendation.
Because I'm growing cynical towards the genre I love, it's easy for me to write-off a new 2D platformer after a couple of sessions with it. That's precisely what happened when I slew the first boss in the faux-retro game Oozi: Earth Adventure, because every stage leading up to this not-so-epic confrontation exuded what I don't like about throwback platformers.
Oozi's first world doesn't skimp on basic hazards, showcasing a wealth of simple pitfalls to leap over and a plethora of lazy stock enemies to crush. Any deviation from those categories usually comes in the form of familiar stage quirks: instances of ground-pounding soft soil in order to access an area below you, negotiating vines intermittently covered with thorns, or ascending narrow vertical tunnels via repeated wall-jump technique. Let's also not forget the myriad
coins rings stars to collect, including massive ones that unlock special challenges that most players (like myself) probably won't bother with
At the world's climax, you step into the den of a cartoony spider. From there you engage in a tiresome battle that consists of avoiding slow projectiles and memorizing obvious patterns. For instance, one of the spider's offensive tactics is a devastating dive attack. He achieves this by lowering a long, horribly conspicuous strand of silk, waiting a few seconds, then plunging down onto you. Of course, anyone with a brain will have been out of harm's way during the lengthy pause. It's only after tedious minutes of overcoming simplistic challenges that the foe becomes vulnerable, allowing you to launch a single reprisal before commencing the irksome process anew.
As you can tell by the last two paragraphs, what I experienced in Oozi's first world was yet another slog through genre cliches, bereft of challenge or complexity of any kind. I anticipated the game's mediocre streak to resume as entered world two, but as I crossed the world's midpoint I discovered something unexpected: I was starting to have fun.
As it turns out, Oozi was initially released on Xbox 360 as an episodic game, with each world serving as an episode. The banal world one, for instance, was actually episode one. I'm guessing that the developers paid attention to the feedback they received after the first episode's release, as is evidenced by the drastic improvements that the game exhibits from the second world onward. For starters, the developers progressively stepped up the challenge factor, forcing you into a multitude of situations that require timing and precision. One scenario, for example, features a group of tiny islands guarded by carnivorous leaping fish. The fish don't ascend from the water all at once, but at varying intervals, usually while neighboring fish still pose a threat. It's a tricky negotiation, but given proper timing, you should be able to surmount this obstacle.
A variety of other challenges appear as well, including stages that revolve around security lasers, areas filled with intoxicating gas, and numerous risky jumps--usually onto tiny, moving platforms or through tight gaps lined with punishing spikes.
Oozi himself also gains a new trick or two as you advance through the campaign. You'll eventually run afoul of creatures who overturn as you leap on them, allowing you to punch them into nearby foes. There are also several sequences that deal with explosives, a few of which require you to carefully toss them from one platform to another or past moving obstacles that could prematurely set off your bomb.
I even began to understand the value of unlocking bonus stages in Challenge Mode. Oozi offers a variety of challenges, ranging from tough mini-games (e.g. collecting a certain number of stars, dispatching a certain number of enemies...) to full length, campaign-quality levels. Although the objective of each challenge is simple, completing one is not. I think I died more times completing some of the challenges than I did in the entire campaign. And they're addictive, to boot, making it difficult to walk away from an unfinished challenge, even when you're unaware that five hours have gone by and the sun is shining through yon window...
Oozi eventually develops into the game it ought to be. It shifts from a ho-hum assortment of platforming scenarios into a grinder of formidable obstacles. Given this transformation, you might expect that boss encounters similarly improve. Sadly, though, they don't. Each boss plays out in the same manner as the spider, by bombarding you with uncomplicated patterns. Worst of all, the further you advance, the longer you have to wade through simple patterns before each boss becomes vulnerable. Thanks to their chore-like manner, boss fights are easily the lowest points of the experience.
Although Oozi: Earth Adventure's campaign improves over time, it still lacks polish. Were stages 1-1 through 2-2 as entertaining as the rest of the game, Oozi may have been a platformer to remember. Unfortunately, the experience is dragged down by a weak first world and tedious boss encounters. Ultimately, though, I recommend Oozi to fans of 2D platformers. The drastic increase in quality in the latter stages and the game's exciting Challenge Mode provide enough entertainment to warrant adding the game to your Steam library.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.