OkunoKA Madness is the new game from Caracal Games. Well, when I say new game, it’s actually a port of an older Nintendo Switch title, updated and re-released onto our poor, unsuspecting Xbox Ones (other platforms are available). So, I strapped on my best wrist supports and prepared myself in order to dive into the mad world of KA, Os and more levels than you can shake a blue tadpole-looking thing at. Lets get crazy!
The story of the game, because it is very important to know why we are putting ourselves through this treacherous task, is pretty simple. KA is a kind of blue tadpole with legs with a handy line in jumps, wall jumps and elemental manipulation. We live in the world of souls – a pretty cushy number actually, until one day our arch enemy invades. Going by the name of Os, this guy appears to be a big evil robot-looking dude, and he proceeds to fill our lovely world with peril, making all the golden things (could they be souls? It isn’t clear) turn a nasty shade of black. Of course, we aren’t going to take this lying down, and so our mission to rid the world of the despicable Os begins.
The world map is where we find ourselves in classic story mode. Each node on the map is a level, and each level is a self-enclosed section of the game. The goal of each is to reach the area where the previously golden thing (Soul? Creature?) is languishing. Once you do that, we are “treated” to a cutscene showing KA eating the black thing before excreting it out all shiny and golden again. I can only infer from this that KA’s innards are not only full of industrial strength solvents – and maybe a hint of Brasso – but that they are also incredibly efficient, as it takes about a second from the thing being swallowed to it “reappearing” again.
Now, in the lead up to this miraculous act, I hinted that all KA has to do is reach the spot where the black thing is sitting. Sadly, this is a lot easier said than done, especially as the levels go on and get more convoluted. Luckily, KA can not only jump, he can dash jump, allowing him to clear bigger gaps, he can wall jump, either up the same wall or from wall to wall like every platformer hero ever, and finally he can cling onto a wall and slide down, which is handy when you have to clear some spikes, for instance. So, enter the level, jump about a bit, free the golden thing, home for tea and crumpets. Simples, right?
Well, yes and, more importantly, no. This is a speedrunning game, and as such, every level is played out not just against the baddies and bottomless chasms of the level in question, but also against the clock. Trying to find more efficient paths through the levels soon becomes second nature, as is dashing instead of walking – every second counts if you are going to try and unlock the fabled “S” rank score. And then, as if the running and the jumping wasn’t hard enough, KA also gains the power to control ice and, a bit later on, fire. So, soon you’ll be jumping, clearing ice, then reforming it behind you to allow you to bounce to the other side like a gazelle. That’s the theory at least; I tended to find myself soaring like a beagle, messing up the timing and coming to an ignominious end.
I have to hold my hands up here, and admit that I am definitely built more for comfort than speed, and as this is a speedrunning game, not a comfort running game, I took to it like a lead balloon takes to flying. I can see what I need to do, but making my aging fingers dance around the controller like they need to has been a real challenge. Let me give you a concrete example from one of the early levels. It looks simple: there is a gap, and in the middle of the gap is a column of ice that you can just about jump to with a dash jump. Now, what you need to do is jump to the ice column, jump off it, make the ice vanish, jump through where it was, reform the ice and then cling to the opposite side of the column, before you then jump to the other side and free the creature. To do this means you have to use the A button, the RB button, the RT button, and do it all in the correct order; it took more tries than I care to remember before I was able to finally clear it. And when fire gets introduced, the LB button then changes the element you control. The stress of it was almost enough to make my hands explode!
Luckily, the controls are absolutely pin-sharp, so I can’t blame my successive failures on anything but incompetence. The graphics are perfectly functional too, moving at a fair old lick with no slowdown, even when the screen is getting busy with baddies, chock-full of homing missiles. That combination means that the game is actually a pleasure to play, even when it’s repeatedly kicking you in the crotch with the difficulty. And this is before we even get to the other difficulties that can be unlocked, along with other playable characters.
Beating bosses, catching extra creatures in the levels, in addition to the one to end the level, and with other 100 levels to go at, there’s no shortage of content to go at. And then alongside the story mode, there are two other options to test your finger bones. Speedrun has three modes to try, either all worlds, single level, or a custom selection. The times that you achieve in the levels can be compared to a global leaderboard to let you see how good you really are, and for the life of me I cannot imagine how some of the times have been set. The other mode is the titular Madness, setting almost impossible challenges for you to try and beat. And the development team really mean madness; in the very first level, before I could move a homing missile came out of nowhere and blew poor KA to pieces. Having eventually dashed through that section, it was then to an area with lasers going down walls you had to climb. I’m not ashamed to say that I ran away at that point, a much chastened old man.
So, a conclusion then. If you have the reflexes of a ninja, if you eat Mega Man games for breakfast, if you are young and limber, then OkunoKA Madness on Xbox One will challenge you. If you are riddled by the ravages of time, however, it will break you… without a word of a lie. It plays well, controls brilliantly, but is absolutely unforgiving, so if you want to challenge your reactions and your finger dexterity, OkunoKA Madness is the game for you.