‘Ancients of Ooga’ is a quirky and charming 2D puzzle-platformer (with limited z-axis movement) that ultimately suffers from repetitive level/puzzle design.
‘Ancients of Ooga’ puts you in the role of ‘The Great Spirit,’ a deity-like creature that is summoned to help free the ‘Ooganis’ (primeval creatures) from slavery to the ‘Boolis.’ You help out these poor Ooganis by uniting the Oogani tribes and readying them for revolution. The story is rather light but the gameworld is creative. Each level is essentially a series of puzzles designed around collecting/gathering items, opening gates, and occasionally fighting enemies. The story is told by the ‘Spirit Summoner’ and through “cut-scenes” that are simple cave paintings that merely reflect the text (what the ‘Spirit Summoner’ is saying) at the bottom of the screen. This type of still image cut-scene makes sense for this game since the Ooganis are primeval creatures that seem likely to tell stories through cave paintings. However, it would have been nice if these images did more than just reflect the text onscreen. Some of the narrative could have come through the cave paintings as opposed to completely through text accompanied with simple visual stimulus.
Possessing the Oogani
The main power of ‘The Great Spirit’ is the ability to possess and control different Ooganis (one at a time) in any given level. However, you can only possess Oogani’s who are loyal to you and your cause. Often a level begins with only one Oogani at your disposal, but completing quests and freeing Ooganis from cages will make more Ooganis available for you to possess. This is one of the games strongest gameplay mechanics and it is easy to switch between different Ooganis in each level. Furthermore, this ability to switch between differing Ooganis is essential to complete certain puzzles that require two, or more, Ooganis. For example, in order to launch your Oogani from a catapult you need to place one Oogani on the catapult and then possess another to pull the lever that launches the catapult. This sounds like a fun concept for a puzzle game, and it is fun, however I only found one puzzle that made relatively complex use of needing multiple Ooganis.
Chew Before You Swallow
Ooganis apparently love to eat everything they can touch. You can chew on rocks and logs, slugs and fruit, and even other Ooganis. This ability to stuff limitless items in your mouth is used well in the game. For example, you cannot climb ladders if your Oogani has an item in his hand—if you place the item in his mouth his hands are free. If a puzzle requires one or more Oogani you can simply place several Ooganis in your Oogani’s mouth and move around freely then ‘puke’ the other Ooganis out when you need them. The Ooganis themselves are able to gain certain abilities by swallowing different kinds of items. Chili peppers allow your Oogani to beltch fire and ‘hover beans’ allow your Oogani to float into the air to reach higher areas of the level. There are many other kinds of items available for your Oogani to swallow with both positive and negative results. This is a fun gameplay mechanic but is sometimes frustrating. If you need a certain item to complete a puzzle or quest and you place that item in your Oogani’s mouth then possess another Oogani, say to unlock a gate, you can loose track of which Oogani has the item you need. However, the first time I lost track of my items I just made sure to pay closer attention in the future, but perhaps some sort of indicator to show what an Oogani has stored in its mouth would be helpful.
Collectibles are placed throughout each level. These range from the plentiful spices to the rare ‘Bones of the Ancients.’ However, these collectibles only score points for online leaderboards (the only on-line component to the game). Yet I often found myself searching for these items just for the fun of collecting. For completionists and packrats these collectibles will offer some reward, especially those collectibles requiring the completion of a puzzle to reach.
The majority of the game has you traveling to seven of the Oogani tribes to enlist each tribe into your revolt against the Boolis. Each tribe has a specific look to their Ooganis (this look mainly has to do with colour but there are other visual differences as well). This is where the gameworld comes to life as each tribe has specific mentalities you need to exploit. For example, ‘Harvesters’ frighten easily while ‘Fire-lings’ get angry for no reason. As well, each Oogani can gain abilities specific to each tribe (‘Harvesters’ can travel through brambles without being hurt and ‘Fire-lings’ can walk on lava and belch fire). The puzzles are also designed with these abilities in mind. These abilities, unique to each tribe, should have made the game offer a wide variety of gameplay styles and puzzles, unfortunately this is not the case.
Revive the Chieftain… Again
The major problem with ‘Ancients of Ooga’ is that every level feels the same as the last. Each level has you pulling levers to unlock gates, finding items to sacrifice on altars, and most levels go through the same stages: find the village, enlist the Ooganis, and resurrect the tribe’s Chieftain. Most of the Oogani tribes play too similarly to make this formula unique for each tribe. It is not until the last few hours of the game that some real variety comes into the gameplay, but after 5-7 hours of unlocking gates and puking up items/Ooganis it is not enough to revive interest. It also does not help that the enemies are pushovers most of the time. So any combat central levels do not add much depth, complexity, or enjoyment to the game.
Repetition is also present in the visuals. At first, the game has a fresh look with vibrant colours and expressive Ooganis. However, each village, except for the different coloured Ooganis, ultimately looks similar to another. For example, The ‘Stoners’ blue-tinged village of stones and rocks looks very similar to the ‘Fire-lings’ village of stones and rocks. Yet it is still refreshing to have a game with its own visual style that definitely stands out when compared to other games.
Let’s Pull Levers Together
Co-op is a barebones addition to the game. No on-line play, only two players, and nothing new added. If you play the game solo there is very little reason to play co-op, except for an achievement at the end. In addition, there were moments of lag and framerate drop during co-op that made precise jumping (essential for a platformer) very difficult.
‘Ancients of Ooga’ is a game with a great premise, promising gameworld/mythology, and fun/unique gameplay. However, the repetitive nature of the levels/puzzles and the lack of any real complex puzzles make this otherwise great title tedious at times. It should be noted that the game is rated “E10 for Everyone” and this might explain the lack of complexity, but does not explain the lack of variety. Still, I hope a sequel is made because there is so much potential for a deep and complex puzzle game and the Ooganis are such great characters that it would be a shame to never to see them again.
Final Score: 7.5
Reviewed by James Farrington | 07.05.10
- Vibrant and colourful visuals
- Unique and fun gameplay mechanics
- Rich gameworld/mythology
- The Ooganis are great characters that deserve a sequel
- Lack of complex puzzles
- Repetitive level and puzzle design
- Enemies too easy to defeat
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