Puzzle-platformer games have become a dime a dozen over the last several years. When added to the already titanic catalog of past generations, it’s becoming more and more difficult for any particular game to stand out from the crowd. So, which are truly deserving of your time?
First established in 2009, independent studio Sparpweed Games makes its first appearance on PlayStation with ibb & obb. In doing so, Sparpweed reflects on the familiar puzzle-platformer genre with more than just a new coat of paint.
As the name suggests, players are in direct control of ibb and obb, two tiny, speechless creatures who look suspiciously like Dots candy come to life. Intended as a two-player game, ibb & obb focuses on flexing your brain with unique dual-gravity puzzles that can only be overcome through the combined efforts of the game’s namesakes.
One of the first things that you’ll notice about ibb & obb is its visual simplicity. The environment that Sparpweed has created is extremely tasteful and the art direction chosen complements the game’s style of play and easy melodies exceptionally well. More than with anything else, ibb & obb tells its story through its vibrant, yet subdued color palette. From the two characters ibb and obb themselves, to the enemies and their weak points, to interactive environmental elements, all are acknowledged through the use of specific colors without disturbing or taking away from the setting of the game.
ibb & obb’s strong use of color is beneficial not only aesthetically and mechanically, but it also acts as the main conduit for the game’s slight narrative. Similar to games like Journey, it’s the visuals of the game that create the story as you play, but it does so in a much smaller capacity.
There are many successful puzzle games out there without decisive narratives, but with ibb & obb it feels as though Sparpweed was on the fence in this aspect of the game’s development. Perhaps Sparpweed intended for players to create their own story for the tiny duo? Regardless of the reasoning, it is unfortunate that these two characters are given no basis for their existence or for where they are going. ibb & obb does well to entertain and keep interest for a period of time, but with no narrative to support the game's strong visuals, there is little inclination to continue playing it outside of general curiosity.
While the game’s artistic direction is executed brilliantly on all levels, ibb & obb’s gameplay fails to give as strong of a showing. Armed with only the abilities to move left, right, and jump, players solve puzzles in an area by using gravity to their advantage. Two opposite planes of gravity exist, one above and one below the floor. Players must also avoid or destroy black sawblade-like creatures. Enemies that are killed drop little white, square tokens, which are the only means of evaluation for completing a level and can be very difficult to collect before vanishing. Secret tokens can also be found floating in midair in various levels. These must also be collected if you wish to get a perfect score.
The completion of levels or puzzles leaves the player unsatisfied, only adding to the frustration of the game’s difficulty. There is no reward for passing an area, and once you solve one puzzle you are immediately thrown into another. Apart from seeking perfect scores, there is little reason to go back to completed levels. However, when evaluating sheer performance, few platformers come to mind that surpass ibb & obb. Controls and mechanics are absolutely among the game's highlights.
It is also highly recommended that the game be played cooperatively with two players, unless you want a much more difficult challenge. The option to play single-player is given, but it only makes some areas far more difficult than they need to be. In single-player, ibb and obb are independently controlled with the left and right analog sticks, respectively. Most areas allow time to focus on moving one character and then the other, but other areas require the characters to be moved simultaneously in fairly dexterous manners.
If you don’t have another person available to play with on the same screen, ibb & obb also offers online multiplayer. No other players were online during my attempts at multiplayer, so I am unable to comment on it, but if you plan to use the multiplayer, a headset is heavily encouraged. Unless you have a direct line of communication with your companion, many of ibb & obb's puzzles will be next to impossible to finish.
ibb & obb brings a fresh approach to traditional platformering and provides a great challenge with its various puzzles. Its overall art style and setting are executed superbly and are met with equally polished gameplay. Unfortunately, its lack of narrative and focus on two-player co-op fails to provide lasting interest and greatly increases difficulty for the solo gamer. Little reason is given to return the game, apart from striving to obtain tokens dropped by enemies and some hidden collectibles. Its lack of reward for completing a level also leaves players unfulfilled. All things considered, ibb & obb is a refreshing, charming game for friends, with little to compel a solo playthrough.
-The Final Word-
ibb & obb brings a fresh idea to platforming and is filled with challenging puzzles. Its art style and gameplay are exceptional, but its lack of narrative and rewards, and a heavy two-player focus, leave little to compel solo players.