In fact, if Okabu has one defining characteristic, it is backtracking. Almost every level is a dull trudge where the mental side has been removed by those overzealous instructions, and it's very clear exactly what you have to do, but you'll still spend five minutes going back and forth doing it with mechanics that never feel tight enough to justify the repetition. In later levels you'll be required to do exactly the same thing two or three times before a gate opens or a contraption is conquered. It's baffling.
This would be bad enough, but the game often betrays its own logic: one level needs you to shine light on solar panels that are hidden behind walls. Noticing this in advance, I trained the light where it needed to be and then floated over to pull the walls aside. Nothing happened. I had to return to the light source, move it off the solar panels and back on them before it registered. As soon as a world shows itself to be functionally incoherent in this manner, my interest wanes.
Some bits of levels are simply missing a physical presence: the first world ends with your having to move exploding blocks onto conveyor belts, theoretically using a bull to turn the belts on and move the boxes. But the gates that should stop you pulling the boxes up with the plunger man don't actually exist beyond the visual representation: I just floated through them with the boxes and left the bull to twiddle its horns.
And as for the writing... I was raised on Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, Asterix and the like: books full of fizzing wordplay and imagery, exactly the kind of thing kids adore. Pick any line from Okabu, any line in the entire game, and I guarantee it will be dull. Flat, lifeless, devoid of rhythm. It's a game that forces a great deal of dialogue down your throat in every level, but none of it is fun or funny - merely functional. In a world that has clearly had a great deal of care and polish applied to certain areas, it's a glaring weakness.
Okabu is also being marketed as 'environmentally conscious', to which I say: get serious. Apparently the Yorubo are more in touch with nature than the evil lot (who would've thought?) and there are a few recycling signs around, but that's it. Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators had more to say than this does, and if just having water and greenery versus big bad machinery qualifies something as environmentally conscious then I'm Al Gore. Games like Fate of the World are environmentally conscious. For Okabu, it's a line in a press release.
The previews for Okabu (including Christian's) were amazingly positive and, given the fact I'm an old curmudgeon, I decided to rope in a pair of nephews, six and eight years old, to give it a go. They thought it was literally the best game ever for five minutes, zooming their whales all over the place and giggling when I showed them how to run a goat into an enemy. Then, all too soon: "Uncle Dicky this is booooring, can we play Mario?" I asked they persist for science, and after another few minutes the arms were folded and they refused to play any longer.
From the mouths of babes there is no greater damnation than 'boring', and they're right. Okabu looks amazing, with real care in its visual layouts and a bouncy, irresistible soundtrack. But it's no fun to play. The challenges aren't interesting, the rhythm of each level is constantly upset by countless backtracking, the logic underlying puzzles is inconsistent, and though the world is big, there's far too much repetition.
Okabu's first impression is dazzling because it gets the audio and visual design absolutely right, but it has neither the depth nor imagination to sustain this. And when the simple act of playing isn't fun, you're just going through the motions.