STAFF REVIEW of Octahedron (Xbox One)

Thursday, May 3, 2018.
by Royce Dean

Octahedron Box art If there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from Doctor Who over the years, it’s that time is really funky stuff. The second would be that I pity the writer’s behind the show because all of that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey nonsense is really hard to put down on paper in a way that doesn’t make the viewers (or readers in my case) eyes roll backwards into their skull and explode. Fortunately for most of us we can skip the TV and best written video game reviews of all time in favor of looking out our windows to witness time tom-foolery firsthand. Our example is personified by the ever present and ever eternal wisdom of teenagers. In their clearly superior knowledge of all things that are, have been, or will be, we can see all of time unfold by their choices of attire. Fashion has a tendency to come full circle and become “cool” again some thirty years after its debut, which is a fantastic thing to remember as a parent when your children begin to mock old photos of you from the 80’s. Speaking of the 80’s, everything 80’s is hot right now. Star Wars has come back and Stranger Things has a title card that looks intentionally low quality to bring us back to the time when something like that was as high as quality got and Thor: Ragnarok had neon stuff. You know what else uses a lot of Neon? My next game, Octahedron.

Part of me is more excited to see the absolute gong show that will be 90’s inspired games with oversized t-shirts, bad music, and protagonists rocking frosted tips, but for now we have Octahedron. Octahedron takes the concept of a neon street sign and makes a whole video game out of the thing. Imagine Tron but with less bikes and more diamond shaped heads. Interestingly the octahedron is the scientific name for a diamond shape. So if you want to be “that guy” you can roll into your nearest jewelers and make absolutely no friends by requesting their finest octahedron ring for your wife. Only the finest karat octahedron will do you gentleman.

So, what does Octahedron look like? Well, it looks like an indie game. It plays like an indie game too. It even sounds like and costs about as much as one, but don’t let it fool you. This little number was published by Square Enix. Though the developer Demimonde is less of a household name, knowing that Square Enix was behind the wheel in some capacity would have you think that this game was well funded. Maybe it was. Unfortunately, even if it was, it doesn’t feel like it. Octahedron looks great, but the gameplay shifts back and forth between bland an infuriating.

Aesthetically Octahedron strikes the same cord as old arcade classics by delivering itself on a sheet of black with vibrant, colorful lines. The boundaries of each level are clearly defined by how far you can move in any direction, and each is filled with an array of neon obstacles, platforms, enemies, and collectables for you to look out for. It’s a simple look for a relatively simple game. The music too harkens back to an era and setting where this type of thing would be seen most commonly. Low and fast beat music; dance club style, makes up the score of Octahedron and sets the pace and tone of the game remarkably well. Ironically though, these very things that I enjoyed about that game seem to be the lead contributors to the failure of its gameplay.

Broadly speaking, the biggest hurdle that most modern indie platformers seem to suffer from is oversimplification. They focus too intensely on a singular mechanism or quirk. Super Mario Bros. started its life with just one thing; Jumping, and from that it created a dynasty. That same train of thought has never succeeded since then for two reasons. One; jumping is present in all platforming titles since Mario and Luigi decided to exterminate all turtles automatically making each game that adds stuff less singularly focus than the game that started it all. And two; moving up and down in the way afforded to us by a jumping mechanic is so integral and expected in a two dimensional game now that removing it to focus on a singular mechanic the same way would surely be financial suicide. Aka... people would hate it. So what’s wrong with Octahedron? Well, you jump and you place platforms under your feet which disappear after a few seconds. Each are as important as the other. Both of these actions are integral to scaling the vertically natured levels in the game and must be managed correctly. While that sounds okay in theory, it feels clunky in practice and does little that adding more jumps over the platform mechanic couldn’t solve in a more fluid way.

Nearly all of your interaction with the environment around you requires the use of these platforms, of which you have a limited number. If you mistime a jump or fail to place a platform correctly you may be looking at falling a long way down. Some uses for the platform feel better than others, such as placing one to get across a large gap or shield yourself from an enemy that attacks from below. Others, such as using your platform to trigger the appearance of another platform in the stage, feels less good because it requires your jumps and platforms be timed in a very specific way, as using your platform can also cause these environment platforms to disappear too. It’s all terribly confusing... though less so in the game than in a written explanation. You need to spawn your platform to break light bulbs in the background for their sweet, sweet hidden collectables within too. Usually these bulbs are hanging between platforms and in more difficult locations to reach within reason. Did I mention you have limited platforms? There is a lot of trial and error in Octahedron, and not in the good way.

The superb visuals and music in game do a weird amount of harm to the game. The rhythm of the music tells you a story that screams at you to play fast and keep up with the music. It’s the same phenomenon that occurs while you’re driving and listening to some awesome music, and then you look down to see you’re doing a good 25 over the limit. Getting into the music while you play is ill advised if you aim to make as few mistakes as possible. Octahedron is also a visual fiesta. There are lights and color explosions everywhere. Many times I found myself focusing on one brightly colored obstacle to overcome only to be slain by the tiny annoying orange circular bad guy stowed away underneath the rest of the fireworks show.

My final verdict is that Octahedron, well, isn’t terrible. I know. I just spent six paragraphs ragging on it for the very thing that it is. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t great either, but the truth is that there is a framework here that could be the foundations of a very solid sequel. While I certainly wouldn’t pay any more than the $14.49 CAD that the game cost to play, any platforming pro that wants to test their mettle should still consider giving it a shot. Octahedron is hard in the obnoxious way that many old NES platforming games are. It kills you without remorse. It gives you little time to become warmed up the play style before ramping up the difficulty. New and fun ways to die just crawl out of the walls like a damn horror movie, but hey, it looks pretty while doing it. I suppose if building a game that both looks and plays like an old game was their goal then they succeeded, but us wimpy Millennials can’t handle that crap. How dare they! I need my safe space now! /s

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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