Title: Even The Ocean
Developer: Analgesic Productions LLC
Publisher: Analgesic Productions LLC
Released For: PC (Windows 7+)
Reviewing: PC (Windows 10)
DRM and DRM Free Versions Available
Released On: Nov 16, 2016
MSRP: $14.99 Steam Link / GOG Link
Copy provided by developer or publisher
A long time ago, I adored platformers. They’re still one of my favorite genres of video games. In fact, as of this review, they’re the biggest genre of games that I’ve reviewed via Yourwolfsdengaming. But, unlike some, I didn’t grow up with 2D platformers. I grew up with 3D platformers like Spyro: The Dragon. Yet despite growing up with 3D platformers, games like On Rusty Trails and Dust: An Elysian Tail have pushed and shoved their way into my gray little heart. Will Even The Ocean do the same?
The story of Even The Ocean is that you play as a character named ‘Aliph’, a power plant technician who helps to harvest a certain type of energy from nature to power White Forge: a utopian city. After disasters strike, it’s Aliph’s job to go and bring the magic macguffin power plants with convenient platforming elements back online so that the magic technobabble will continue the balance of energy, and while working to bring back the magic macguffin’s balance, you discover characters and events that you need to aid in order to progress. Aliph will puzzle-platform the way to staggeringly dull victory through stunningly similar puzzles and ‘I had to check my previous footage to make sure these weren’t the exact same’ platforming levels.
If the issues I have with Even The Ocean were a sandwich at a Mcdonald’s, they’d amount to be three Big Macs super-glued together, drenched in an extra-large orange soda.
The game is terribly slow to actually startup. Between a wheelchair-slow startup, and the fact that thirty of my initial sixty minutes with the game were just spent scrolling through partially broken textboxes didn’t exactly help the game’s case. So I walked away, took a break, and came back a few weeks later. The problems I had with the game aren’t fixed, but the game really opens up after an hour or so into the game, so I pushed through regardless.
As previously noted, the game divides itself into two very distinct parts. One part consists of the story elements, and the other part is the platforming. If you’re not in a powerplant or powerplant-like place (we’ll get to that later), you’re in a story bit and vice versa.
In the story bits, most of the dialogue events really don’t matter in the context of the story, but the game makes sure to show you these sideshow events like they somehow matter regardless. These aren’t just sideshow events. Many conversations are forced into the story, even when they don’t make sense to happen. For example, one part forces the player to talk to a certain character, even when there’s no reason for it to happen. There’s no reason to go to said character and chat it up, but the game acts like it’s the only thing in the world that matters. Remember in Batman: Arkham City, when the game itself [Oracle] mentions how Batman avoids getting the cure from Joker, even to his own detriment? Even The Ocean does the same thing, except it removes the part where Oracle actually brings it up, making Even The Ocean look ignorant to what it’s doing. If the player is anywhere that’s not in a powerplant that powers the city using a magic macguffin, be prepared to be interrupted no-less than every five minutes for character interactions that fall somewhere between ‘going on far too long’ and ‘why won’t these stupid textboxes just stop?’ levels of quality.
The worst part is that the story feels forcefully inserted, often interrupting the gameplay in the process. Analgesic Productions try to create this big world, but then proceed to fill it with practically nothing beyond the power plant or powerplant-like puzzles. When they do add something or add character development or background, it’s for places that don’t matter and for characters we never see or are heard from again. Worse, the text boxes for each character interaction scroll at what seems to be random intervals. Sometimes, the textbox for a character’s dialogue will just stop and expect the player to manually scroll it down to the next bit of dialogue. Worse, sometimes the textbox will stop mid-sentence, leaving the player wondering whether it’s going to actually scroll or not. This wouldn’t be bad if there was the voice acting, but there’s not. And, if the player just keeps pressing the ‘please just hurry up and let this drawn-out conversation end’ button, the player could miss actually useful information. Because the font is large and the textboxes small, it means conversations play out for what seems like an eternity. Most conversations and dialogue segments fall into two camps, which is either they’re useful, or just meant to waste time, and the game has a hard time deciding which one the dialogue at any one point is going to be. Sometimes it’s useful to build the story or section of the world Aliph’s in, and other times, the dialogue just gets in the way. At one point, you have to listen to the entirety of a bit-crushed song in order to continue. Not just a bit crushed song, but a bit crushed song with the same broken dialogue system mentioned previously.
Witcher 3 did this. In fact, it might have done it a few times. The difference is that Witcher 3 had music so incredible that not only was I humming the tune to ‘Priscilla’s Song [The Wolven Storm]’, but I was humming the tunes to half the songs and probably (really terribly) singing along to them. The difference is that they sound like actual songs.
The story itself isn’t much better. We’ll skip some of the plot points, but we’ll leave off the story by saying that the game plays off itself with the image of it being much more clever than it actually is. The ending particularly only makes sense in a vacuum. Despite all the dialogue this game dedicates to the story, it actually explains very little. Somehow, the game ends with a flood engulfing the world. Why?
For all the dialogue this game spends on discussing the magic macguffin and the emotions of one-off characters, the story never actually explains anything about it, other than that the energy forces are important. It’s a Star Wars cop-out, where any seemingly glaring plot hole is covered up with magic, fate, and or destiny, depending solely on what’s convenient in the moment. The world was ‘destined’ to be covered in a flood, and the only thing Aliph could do was slow it down.
For all the buildup of the magic macguffin energy force, it’s not actually the cause of anything. The only thing the power plants did, was speed up the process of the flood happening. The entire story’s ending is ‘fate’. That the world was going to be covered in a flood regardless of what the main character did, and cycles of systems are just destined to happen, and that the people who needed to change didn’t, because the power they had made them comfortable. The problem is that Aliph did change throughout the story when Aliph took the job and took on a task she wouldn’t normally take on and was constantly hesitant to continue, creating ludonarrative dissonance between what the game was trying to say, and the gameplay mechanics. This is fine if other elements of the game were better, but they aren’t. The dev slightly admits to hampering certain things in an interview with Danielle Riendeau when the developer states “…but as the years went on, I became more and more aware of how many small and large barriers there can be to experiencing a video game.” By trying to incorporate all these different game modes like story-only or puzzle-only options, it forced the developer to create a game that went against a lot of what the developer wants the game to mean to people. Continuing the interview, he states that he wants people to “realize a change with our society requires an understanding of how power works and that we need a radical rethinking of the current actions in our world.”.
The problem is again, you can’t do that in a game where Aliph doesn’t change anything because the player doesn’t get an option to learn or understand. The player doesn’t get an option to learn the power structure, understand it, and change what happens in the story. Thus, creating the ludonarrative dissonance mentioned previously as a result of poor implementation of story into gameplay mechanics. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t work because the game doesn’t really give it the chance to work.
The gameplay goes in the following order: Go to small world space, fix powerplant, go to a city, go to a smaller city, fix the powerplant, and repeat. As for the gameplay itself, the only time Aliph really does any kind of platforming, is during the powerplant or powerplant-like areas. I say powerplant-like areas, because despite their being different world spaces to explore, you’ll end up realizing that every single puzzle-platforming area, is essentially the powerplant. At one point, you get to into giant monsters, and they still act the same as the power plants do. You go room to room, then take a magic stick, and put that magic stick in a rectangle. Every single powerplant and the powerplant-like place has the exact same conclusion and plays out the same. Whether it be in a tower that’s decades old, powerplants, or giant monsters, they all play out the same. Imagine the first level of Super Mario Bros, and instead of going into a castle on the next level, you just play the exact same level with the contrast turned slightly up, a few of the colors are reversed, and it mixes a few Dry Bones in.
The monsters have the exact same puzzle as all the powerplants. I know I already said that, but I want to make sure I made it abundantly clear that the monsters, these giant crystalline monstrosities, these giant crystalline flying monstrosities, play out almost exactly as the powerplants do.
Don’t get me wrong, the platforming isn’t bad. While yes, the platforming is basic as can be, there’s a nice idea somewhere in the muck. Essentially, at the bottom of the screen, Aliph has to balance the ‘energy’ inside her. If the bar goes too far one way or another, she’ll gain added abilities depending on which way the bar goes. If it goes too far beyond that, she dies. It’s not entirely unique, but it would have been interesting enough to hold a game up on its own.
Unfortunately, that’s the only interesting part of the puzzle-platforming. All the puzzles are basic, and because it’s (at certain points) impossible to completely balance the energy bar in the middle, Aliph will often feel off during controls. While the idea of gaining certain powers based on her level of energy is interesting, it’s ruined because it also affects how Aliph actually controls as a character. The effects don’t just give her added speed or height jumps, but actively changes how the character controls, which makes controlling her to be frustrating. Worse, there’s a lot of points in the later game that encourages Aliph to use one ability or the other, meaning that the player will die not because of being bad at the game, but because the controls actively become worse. It’s not uncontrollable, but it makes the player feel like they’re missing far more jumps than they’re supposed to.
There are also a few different story modes, one of which being a speedrun mode that primarily acts as just all the puzzle areas without the story bits. Kind of cool if that’s something the player’s in to, but the rest of the modes are a wash at best.
A lot of the more interesting puzzle ideas, the game simply abandons and acts as though they never even existed. Or, worse, they keep those puzzle elements around and simply leave them as-is, without ever doing anything more complicated. The same goes for pretty much every character the player meets as well. All those characters the player meets during the story outside of White Forge? Might as well forget about them now, as they don’t matter. That kid that sabotages an elevator because he’s angry at how people seem to have abandoned what matters? It doesn’t matter (ironically). The loner scientist in the second continent? It doesn’t matter. The really cool couple in the ancient library? It doesn’t matter. None of them matter. They could have all just as easily been replaced with cardboard standees for how much they matter in the context of anything.
The biggest problem is that the core elements of the game are all nearly identical to each other, and even a good cake gets rather tiring after the 17th piece. But this isn’t a good cake, it’s a cake from your nearest Dollar Tree or pound shop. It’s filled with plenty of game time at six-plus hours for what it costs, but it’s almost entirely made of sugary paste. For its downsides, I did finish the game after all, but I didn’t willingly. And as a bit of foreshadowing to my conclusion, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for me to unwillingly finish something.
Visually, the game is a mixed bag. The overworld and most of the backdrops look absolutely gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact, that they were the reason I requested a review code originally. But there’s a reason that there’s maybe all of two screenshots of the puzzle sections on the Steam store page for the game, and it’s because they look meh. The outside backdrops look beautiful, but the pixel art itself for things like platforms and characters isn’t exactly A+ quality. Most of the characters look simply like lumpy potatoes, and the platforming sections all look like they were created years before the actual backdrops were. The backdrops and the outside areas visually look both alien, yet stunning. But the indoor places like the powerplants, look both interchangeable and bland. The characters all stand out from the backdrops, and not because they’re particularly good looking. I really wish the visual style from the outside areas transitioned to the inside because they’re of a stunningly high-quality caliber compared to everything else. Particularly, the dream world area was visually adorable, yet bizarre to wander through.
As for the audio, the music and soundtrack aren’t bad. As with many soundtracks, I wouldn’t consider it memorable, but the tunes and melodies were at least well-done (for the most part), and they generally fit the areas that they were placed in.
With the controls, I already talked about my gripes. Despite those issues, the controls themselves have full customization, and the settings for visuals, full-screen options, etc, are all perfectly acceptable. The only real issue is that the game started off with Japanese controls by default. Meaning that the buttons for ‘enter’ and ‘exit’ are reversed. Not a huge oversight, but could certainly confuse some people. Luckily, you can switch between controller configurations to deal with that. There are also tons of options to change certain gameplay and speedrun elements. Kind of cool that it’s not just a difficulty slider, but most of the things to adjust simply make the game easier, and while it is nice to give yourself a handicap, the game is already bordering on easy by itself.
Overall, I can’t really recommend the game. I’d like to. I’d really like to, and that’s sad to me. I don’t want to not like something. I especially don’t want to not like something that I put six-plus hours into. But the gameplay is just too bland for me to really suggest the game. The only thing I could really suggest the game for is for the speedrun mode if that’s your thing. If it’s not, I can’t really recommend it, and most certainly not for its retail price considering there are far better platformers out for the same price.
To the developers, you have beautiful backgrounds and you clearly know what kind of music you like. You also seem to be fairly proficient with basic functional mechanics. Take these ideas, take these beautiful backdrops that have no business being bogged down by this game, and put them in something else. Something, anything other than this game. Like a lot of developers, or just people trying to craft epics as their first big stories, while this shows that you have an interesting story concept, your lack of experimentation and understanding of how to execute said story concept is also clearly visible. Don’t hamper gameplay because it may create a barrier for certain players. That barrier may actually be what people like about a game, and you thinking that you’re giving the game more accessibility by removing or giving options to remove those barriers, ultimately may actually hurt the core experience because you’re trying to sell yourself to people who weren’t interested in buying. The fact that the puzzles are all nearly identical, is probably a direct result of the developer’s mentality of removing gameplay barriers to enjoy the story. So take what’s been stated and go back to the drawing board. You’re clearly not some talentless hacks. You have some skills, and now you need to figure out how to tell the story you want with said skills, without sacrificing on making the game you want. It’s a balancing act, but the story you wanted to tell just doesn’t fit with the mechanics, and the mechanics are too simple and puzzles too easy to stand well on their own.
- Gorgeous backdrops
- Fairly good music
- Fully customizable controls
- The lack of complex puzzles
- The lack of complex challenges
- The lack of any real difficulty progression
- Poorly laid-out puzzle areas
- The dialogue boxes
- The puzzles themselves
- The overly ‘tell-not-show’ story
- The shift of controls pending on the energy bar