With games largely focused on action of late, it’s refreshing to meet a game that wants you, the player, to seek happiness and find inner peace, something we’ve become unaccustomed to on the battlefield. Oasis Games, Sony Computer Entertainments first ever Chinese publishing partner are aiming to do just that with PlayStation 4 Exclusive, KOI, a beautifully simple, yet elegant puzzle adventure game previously released on Mobile devices, that seeks to tell the tale of one lone Koi’s personal quest to clear up and purify the pond in which it lives.
KOI: PlayStation 4 [Reviewed], Android, iOS
Developer: Dotoyou Games
Publisher: Oasis Games, Sony Computer Entertainment Shanghai
Release Date: (EU) 03 May, 2016 (NA) April 19, 2016
Price: £7.39 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
While KOI is evidently a simplistic adventure game centred around a lone Koi’s quest to cleanse its home and surrounding environments, the game possesses a much stronger underlying message – Our environment. Similar to that of Thatgamecompany’s, Flower, KOI wants players to think about the damage we cause on a daily basis to the scenery around us. Humans, inhabitants of Earth are slowly destroying the planet with our ways, polluting the atmosphere with our fuel guzzling motor vehicles, various oil spillages ruining oceans and beaches, it’s a worldwide problem.
KOI starts out with the small-in-size brightly coloured fish swimming inside a shallow tranquil pool of clean blue water. The games very setting is the true epitome of Asian culture; authentically pleasing on the eye with the glossy feel of porcelain about it. At the water’s edge lie the very decorations synonymous with China and Japan. Dark shaded green lily pads float gracefully on the surface, colourful Lotus flowers bloom with remarkable beauty nearby while large veneer like round stones just about breaking the water’s surface. Indeed, KOI’s setting is one of immense beauty, captivating the eastern culture brilliantly.
Controlling the small fish as it begins to glide throughout the crystal clear water is relatively easy. While there isn’t much in the way of controls, the short opening tutorial explains the mechanics well and proves a nice introduction to what is at times, a truly peaceful and relaxing game.
While the various Lotus Flowers appear dormant at first, they can be easily brought to life. Scattered around each of the game’s eight levels are lost Koi, which when collected by the small fish can be returned to the Lotus Flower that represents their individual colours. Upon returning said fish to their respective flowers the once sombre flower springs to life, lighting up the water with panache. It’s in these ensuing moments and further tasks that the lone Koi can reignite the pond and repair the damage caused.
At first, nothing appears out of place within the pond, however, with progression, I began to unravel a darker presence lurking in the water. Black fish have become a real danger to other inhabitants of the pond. Blinded and tainted by the corruption, their once peaceful nature has been replaced with anger and rage, these fish are a bi-product of the trouble within the pond’s ecosystem and want nothing more than to stop the lone Koi dead in its tracks, injuring the harmless fish if it happens to run into its path.
In truth, there aren’t too many obstacles that can’t be overcome easily throughout KOI but the aforementioned “Black Fish” are one such problem. Prowling around the water near to each flower, preventing movement to the Koi for a short period after an attack, which in turn, slows down momentum for both player, game and fellow fish. After igniting all of the Lotus Flowers in an area, a bright beam of light flashes across the screen and the black fish is cured of its affliction, thus returning to its former self, which just so happens to be an innocent little white fish, that struggled to avoid the contamination brought about by the pollution. The white fish beckons the Koi to continue what it could not and push further into the darkness to solve the overriding issue.
While the early stages are gorgeous and very much picturesque, the later stages are a descent into darkness, with the pollution becoming visibly more apparent. These places are where sight becomes problematic for the Koi. After being swept downstream by a strong and uncontrollable current, the small fish finds itself seemingly inside a dank, gloomy sewage system. What started so colourful and friendly with a zen-like lullaby of a soundtrack had transcended into thick, murky water with daunting music with yet more black fish relying on the lone fishes help.
KOI is undeniably a beautiful indie game that leaves players open to reflection while nudging away ever so subtly at the effects mankind have on this delicately balanced environment, but with just two hours worth of gameplay and no real challenge, it lacks substance. A longer more drawn out story would have better suited a game that showed such glowing promise in the early stages. Unfortunately, as I swam further into the story I found myself faced with the same monotonous, repetitive tasks that only exist to block my path.
When it comes to challenges, I wanted something that really pulls on my senses, I enjoy meeting my match, forced to use all of my brain’s capacity to overcome obstacles, KOI didn’t offer that at all. Sadly puzzles within KOI fall into the category of mundane with simple memory games the only challenge offered. Whether it’s remembering the different patterns on the backs of lizards, before attempting to match each lizard to the one most similar or watching leaves on a branch light up in a random sequence like a water downed take on late seventies electronic toy, Simon.
I can’t help feel that as it stands, KOI is a major missed opportunity. While its early stages and premise are full of real promise, drawing players in with its authentic look and undeniable charm, it ultimately fails to fulfill its full potential. Getting caught up and lost deep within its own transparent message and repetitive objectives. Overall I feel that KOI is best suited for mobile devices and tablets rather than a current generation console such as the PlayStation 4. While it’s simplistic to the very core and visually pleasing on the eye, it lacks the real fundamental elements that would make it a success in the long run.