Oozi: Earth Adventure is where classic platformer gameplay meets modern visuals and hand-drawn art. 5 story mode levels, 7 extra challenge levels for hardcore gamers, time limited arcade mode and dozens of enemies. All that for only 80 MSP!
I just finally finished playing through Sonic 4: Episode 1 the other day, a game rightly bemoaned as a poor, terrible playing Sonic game. When announced, there was much griping as there is with every Sonic release, and part of that was due to the episodic nature. Episodic releases understandably bring about concern since we never are certain to watch the series come to its conclusion as there is no way to guarantee a Developer to release later editions of the game. Many Developers can look towards episodic releases as a way to test the waters for a product -- if it's well received, then the Developer can carry on with plans to complete the product; otherwise, a great deal of time and money is saved by getting rejected early instead of at the end of a long development cycle. At Xbox Live Indie Games, we also see some titles split into episodes due to the limits of the distribution format, large games such as Aphelion and Decay which could not fit within the file size restrictions in a single release. While players can be satisfied that those two respective games can be fully enjoyed across a number of titles, fans of other episodic releases haven't been so fortunate. Oozi: Earth Adventure Ep. 1 looks to deliver its goods across a series of episodes, but is it good enough to succeed and satisfy, particularly if those episodes never materialize?
Oozi: Earth Adventure Ep. 1 follows an alien named Oozi as he crash lands onto Earth. His ship and space suit are smash and scattered, and off he goes into the green wilderness to collect them. Earth Adventure looks terrific despite Oozi and his enemies sporting that creepy, somewhat aimless sense of style seen in a lot of early European games such as Plok, Puggsy, James Pond, and others, and his Crazy Frog look is a pretty big turn off. Oozi himself just isn't a likable mascot nor are his enemies -- assorted worms, snails, spiders, and other garden variety pests -- particularly memorable, but they are drawn and animated extremely well, a colorful lot of characters which may appear derivative but are no less well made from a technical standpoint. Everything is colorful and in motion from the billowing trees to the rippling effect on the clear blue water. I may not particularly be fond of the game's sense of style, but Oozi: Earth Adventure is nonetheless a beautiful game with a lot of effort put behind crafting what we see on screen. Oozi's rubbery feel and the sharp looking cast definitely give the game a professional look, and Earth Adventure's heavy brown-and-green color scheme and general design make it feel like some late SNES platformer given an HD face-lift. Despite the redundant scenery, Earth Adventure showcases a marvelous array of tones which keep the palette looking fresh from scene to scene, and the introduction of new enemy types keeps the game marching along even if it has no where to go when the episode concludes.
The game plays fairly well for the most part with Oozi learning new techniques as the game advances, but the control just isn't as tight as it needs to be. Oozi drops like a rock from heights, the sudden change in momentum noticeably annoying since the screen has trouble keeping up with him. One of the helpful signs early on tells us that Oozi can tap the jump button for a quick leap and hold it down for a high jump, but the short hop isn't much shorter or quicker than his maximum jump height. The weight of the character just feels off, and while none of these control issues make the game particularly difficult to play, the loose control makes the game feel sloppy despite its otherwise tight level design and presentation. The difficulty curve is spot on, and new abilities such as double jumps and ground pounds expand upon the game's design nicely; I enjoyed seeing how I could slam Oozi into the ground to flip the otherwise invincible hedgehog enemies, and the game incorporates these new skills into crafting new challenges beautifully. The game is much more involved than I expected going in, and the final levels and boss proved to be a somewhat stiffer challenge than the cartoony mascot platformer style and trial would indicate.
Unfortunately, Oozi is also just five levels long, brimming with potential but still leaving players feeling shortchanged due to the episodic release. Thankfully, the story levels are rather long with many well conceived challenges, but the lack of variety in theme and style make the entire game feel like a teaser, and I'd rather have seen Awesome Games Studio (really?) crank out a three world, 15 level adventure priced at 240 points than releasing a single world at 80 points. An arcade mode encourages players to make it through each story level without dying while working under a strict time limit and trying to get as much score as possible, and a challenge mode presents Oozi with seven new short levels where players much collect all of the stars while also attempting to defeat all enemies and not get hit. While these are welcomed attempts to expand upon the game's depth, they also feel pretty weak since the star collecting of the main game is such a bore. Oozi can find stars throughout his journeys, some stashed away from the main path, which contribute to his score and health as every 2,000 points grants an additional heart point. Just as Earth Adventure harkens back to those 16-bit mascot platformers of old, it also unfortunately copies the style a bit too closely in regards to its obsession with collecting trinkets which is just not interesting in the least. Oozi just isn't an enjoyable scoring contest to have the extra content worth plowing through -- there's a reason David Perry yanked the score counter from his Disney's Aladdin, and it was the realization that no one cared about score in these sort of adventure platform games.
Excellent graphics, music, and level design make Oozi is an excellent platformer but only a piece of one of unknown length. As it stands, Oozi: Earth Adventure Ep 1 delivers enough content in a slick package to make it worth the investment, but the episodic release does hamper the simplistic plot, its cliffhanger ending leaving players wondering what new abilities and challenges are in store for the next episode. It's definitely refreshing to play an indie platformer which looks as good as this (even if the overall style doesn't agree with me), and I'm sure everyone who experiences this adventure will be waiting in line for the next. Let's just hope the Developer will deliver and hopefully tune up the few things warranting attention.