Version tested: PlayStation 3
A puzzle on Okabu's third level sums everything up. One of its big-eyed Yorubo villagers asks you to help return her pet Bushybeast to its pen. It likes fish, she adds, and immediately the cognitive gears start turning: perhaps we could stick a fish on the end of our plunger and lead it into the pen, like a donkey with a carrot?
And indeed you can. It's immediately obvious, because a big drawing of said action appears on-screen a few seconds after the villager says her piece. This will be repeated countless times over Okabu's opening hours: a puzzle is set, and the game immediately makes clear how to solve it through drawings, highlights, text hints and big bouncing arrows.
Are children now so utterly dumb they can't be relied upon to solve even the most elementary of puzzles? The fact the drawings then move to the top of the screen and stay there says everything. Wouldn't want the little tykes ramming a controller up their nose while thinking too hard.
It takes a while to come to the realisation that Okabu isn't very good, because its aesthetic design is, at times, remarkable. It has to be said that it's also partially ripped off: HandCircus's previous games, Rolando 1 & 2, were excessively 'inspired by' Loco Roco, and for Okabu there's that and a good-sized dash of Patchwork Heroes as well. It is, at least, less derivative than the studio's previous work: this 3D world is populated and arranged with meticulous care, and the characters and objects have a cartoon solidity all their own.
This is only enhanced by the incidental animations: the rising and falling plunger of Captain Monkfish, the little wind trails behind the cloud whales, the fury in the eyes of a goat as it lowers its head and charges. This is all accentuated by a brilliant set of tunes that inject real verve into the world, an infectious mix of pop big band and nonsense chanting (again, highly reminiscent of Sony's Japan Studio, but heigh ho) that gives everything a jolly bounce.
You and a friend control a pair of cloud whales in increasingly large arenas filled with basic physics puzzles, friendly characters and enemies - though the game can also be played solo by switching between them. The whales have a few basic abilities, like sucking up water and other liquids and dropping or spitting it elsewhere, but the real meat lies in the four riders that are gradually accumulated.
Initially these are Captain Monkfish, a chap with a plunger on a rope, and Picolo, a farmer who charms friendly characters with his flute and leads them, Pied Piper-like. You will see the basic elements of Okabu's puzzles many, many times: pull doors open with a plunger, lead NPCs to certain level elements to do their thing, smash up armoured enemies with a farmyard animal. Okabu isn't a challenging game, it's a frustrating one. You later acquire a chap who can control the enemy's machines, which seems like a great idea, but then you drive one and realise the controls are terrible.
The enemies are no fun whatsoever to fight: defeating them by any of several methods always involves getting in close proximity, where they fire homing rockets that will relentlessly track down your whale and make your rider vanish. When this happens, you have to travel back a ways to pick him back up - and this is despite a respawn tree clearly intended to nullify such situations.