While many retro veterans pine for tactile controls for games that would be best suited for precision, the mobile platform can alternatively host creations that gel perfectly with a touch based interface. One such creation is Ookibloks [Free] -- a fast paced platformer that's easy to pick up and play due to perfectly implemented swipe controls.
The premise of Ooki is not unlike a Saturday morning cartoon, or a typical Donkey Kong Country game -- one day the titular monkey fell asleep and left his banana stash to fate, sadly opening it up to a massive heist from rival crabs. He rudely awakens from his slumber to exact revenge on the crabs, and vows to restore his banana horde to its rightful glory. You'll accomplish this in grid-based stages, which feature both enemies to avoid and eliminate, as well as banana blocks to stomp. All you have to do is stomp on every block in any given stage, and it's off to the next puzzle.
This is all really easy to jump into because of the well designed swipe controls, which fling your character in any direction you wish. In order to "clear" a banana block you have to slam into it with at least one block of clearance, so you have to get creative sometimes, flinging around the entire map to get a localized spot. That's all you really need to know, as flying around can help you accomplish everything, from traversing the map, to gathering power-ups or bananas, or defeating enemies.
The cartoon visuals are both unique and endearing, and serve as a way for Ookibloks to look like its own unique universe that's worthy of a sequel or two. Each enemy looks like a great deal of effort went into the model, whether it's ghost cats or the crab army themselves. The cheery music helps enhance the tropical theme of the game as well, and the tracks don't get annoying at any point.
But don't let the lighthearted style fool you, as Ookibloks allows for a pretty high skill ceiling if you're the score attack type. Getting each banana block starts a timer, which quickly depletes with each passing second that you aren't grabbing another piece of fruit. It encourages fast combos, constant movement, and advanced play, which helps keep things fun and interesting. Hopping around and gathering each banana causes music in the form of "beeps and boops," which is a nice touch as it almost always fits into the theme. Also, keeping enemies in each board makes things hectic on its own, nevermind going for a high combo -- so basically, always expect a challenge in some form or another, whether it's from the design directly or self-imposed.
There's no real "timer" outside of a soft timer that summons a "devil cat" -- a mechanic similar to the ghost in Spelunker that will chase you down until you either finish the level, or lose a life. It flies around and screen and it's not too hard to dodge though, so it doesn't completely ruin a stage if you're finding your groove. Like the combo system it helps keep things frantic and interesting rather than having things devolve into a snooze-fest.
Enemies aren't the only thing that will stand in your way though, as there are a ton of hazard blocks to navigate and learn. For starters, there's ice that holds items inside of it, stones that need cracking, fruit that can be dropped on enemy heads, poles to swing off of, black holes to teleport to and fro, spin wheels, and a lot more. Often times you'll have to use multiple concepts in tandem with one another, which can get extremely stressful to pick up -- thankfully, the game eases you into each one on their own before throwing everything at you. What really blew me away though were the boss fights -- which are extremely puzzle-oriented, but with a touch more action than usual. They're very well done and are easily the cherry on top of the already varied and impressive set of levels.
Speaking of levels, there's 100 of them, with different themes and worlds just like a typical platformer. Each theme doesn't get old as the boards move pretty quickly, and there's a mini-narrative to help chop up constant gameplay. There's also a score-attack mode, daily challenges (like "black out," which darkens most of the map), and a capsule toy minigame. The game is free (and ad-supported) meaning there is some form of IAP involved, but it's thankfully pretty minimal and I haven't felt pressured to buy anything outside of a $0.99 purchase that shut off the ads (mostly because I wanted to).
There are power-ups that you can buy like angel kittens that show solutions, but they aren't needed to beat the game so long as you're willing to work and increase your skills. The only hangup is that Ookibloks asks you if you want to buy more lives should you die in a sequence of levels -- like a continue of sorts -- but again, it's not needed to beat the game.
I didn't expect much out of Ookibloks but I came away impressed. What started as a really cute and simple adventure evolved into a fast-paced and frantic action puzzle game, and I'm really interested in seeing what the developers can do with a sequel and some new concepts. It helps that the game is essentially free if you have the fortitude to deal with ads (mostly after a sequence of levels and not during gameplay), so give it a try if you're longing for a fun puzzle game.
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