In the ongoing discussion of ‘games as an art form’, another challenger has appeared to provide further evidence that games can be considered as something more than just the code that is written. OVIVO is a game that only uses black and white as its colour palette and only requires the use of the thumbstick and one additional button for all its inputs.
If you think this basic approach to controlling the game helps you appreciate it as an artform, you are absolutely right. But if you think this basic approach would then detract from the actual enjoyment of the game, you would also be correct.
OVIVO is a platformer where momentum is key. You must navigate a ball through nine levels and a beginning tutorial. Pressing the A button changes the colour of the ball from black to white – or white to black – and by using this you can move through the levels. When the ball is black, it will only move through the white areas; when it is white, it can only access the black areas.
Sometimes though, you need to reach areas higher up or further away, and this is where the momentum comes in. The ball can’t jump like a traditional platformer, it instead requires momentum through the opposite colour. Repeatedly tapping A when stationary can generate some momentum, but to make it across the game’s most difficult jumps you will need to make use of the various levels and ledges to build up enough speed. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds; if you think of a bubble escaping to the surface through water then this will give you some indication as to how the ball works. The only difference here is that the ball remains a spherical shape when it breaks the surface.
The levels on offer are a real mixed bag: some are gentle and calming, there’s almost a therapeutic side to getting a rhythm going and seeing the ball travelling and working in contrast to the environment. Some levels though will offer the exact opposite; they are frustrating and rage inducing. You will get lost, stuck and at times even a game with just two colours will have frame rate issues. That’s not good when you are trying to keep a rhythm going.
Progression comes from not only completing a level but finding the three-story symbols in each stage. The majority of these will require very little effort to find and unlock, only the odd few are ever actually off the beaten track.
Another form of collectible – but not essential – is present in OVIVO, little black and white dots. These are seemingly random as to what colour they are at first but collect them all across the levels and use a familiar dot/dash language to them, and they suddenly start to make sense in what is one of the games coolest features.
They’re not difficult to find, but sometimes keeping an eye out for them will detract from the level design. Which is a shame, because OVIVO has some very well-designed levels, particularly when viewed as a piece of art. The game will zoom out when the level is complete, so you can see the full thing in all its glory. But then when you retrace your journey from the start you see that you have only traversed a small portion of the area, and these works of art are vastly underused in terms of the overall experience.
Sometimes they include depictions of other works of art – one level in particular had a riff on Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ – and there may well be others in there, but my limited knowledge of traditional art pretty much begins and ends there.
Other times, these levels will contain an enemy. These cannot be attacked, simply evaded. One in particular will have you rolling away from a dragon-looking enemy, and it feels very out of place. The rest of the game does not rush you; it allows you to take your time, think, take your surroundings in, even time your movements to make the ball dance around in and out of the black and white. Then this dragon appears out of nowhere and for no reason, and you can’t take any of your surroundings in, you just end up haphazardly getting through these chase sections as quick as possible.
Thankfully though, death is not punished harshly; there are frequent checkpoints and they don’t put you too far back should you fall to your death.
OVIVO comes with 31 achievements in total, and to earn all of them should take no longer than a few hours. Simply collect all the dots and story symbols – most of which are on the path you take through the level anyways – and you will have all 1000G when you complete the last level. If you miss anything though, you can replay a level from the main menu.
There is no denying that OVIVO on Xbox One is a fantastic game to look at and take in. The black and white levels are beautifully designed when you see them in all their glory from a different perspective. When zoomed in, as you control the ball through them though, you miss most of this aesthetic as you try and navigate through basic yet frustrating gameplay. Add to that the input to control the ball is a little too basic, and a few other minor issues that are present prevent this from being an essential platformer. But there is always the promise of easy Gamerscore for those tempted.