Before I kick this off, there’s something I need to confess: OCTAHEDRON made me feel old. It made me feel like Snapchat does, like even though I understand the basic functions, I’m still missing some integral part of it. Now, I’m only 27. I know that will cause a few of you to roll your eyes, but while I can appreciate Snapchat and even enjoy using it, I feel like the deeper merits of it are completely lost on me. There’s something going on under the surface that I do not have the ability to comprehend, and the same can be said for OCTAHEDRON.
The result of a lot of hard work and ingenuous dedication by developer Demimonde Games, and published by the illustrious Square Enix Collective, OCTAHEDRON has arrived on PC, PS4 and Xbox One with an explosion of neon and a pumping beat. Boasting a hook in the form of never before seen mechanics and seamless, 60fps platforming action, it promises to bring something new and fresh to a genre that has existed since the beginning of time (or at least 1981). And though I might need to take breaks between every heart palpitating, palm sweat inducing, “am I having fun or a stroke?” world of subterranean Veetragoul, OCTAHEDRON succeeds in its goal so brilliantly that an uncultured troglodyte like myself can still appreciate its merits, even if I don’t fully understand them.
The thing I tend to harp on the most in games (and indie games in particular) is how the developer integrates the player into the world they’ve created, how they teach you to interact with it, and this is not without reason. Whether by tutorial box, exposition dump or the timeless “sink or swim” method, a game lives or dies by its learning curve and it is, in essence, where the developers tell the player what they are expecting of them.
For example, a game that has no mechanical tutorial but is heavy in exposition tells the player that the practical functions of the game will not be as important as the mental acrobatics it will demand of you. Likewise, a game that hands you a button map before kicking you to the wolves is immediately telling you that the mechanics are nothing you haven’t seen before, and it is something else, be it the characters, plot or concept, that deserves your undivided attention. And of course, there is the enduring wildcard that is the “no tutorial” tutorial, which can convey anything from “hey, I trust you, and my game is so simple a child could figure it out,” to “your enjoyment is secondary to how awesome I already know my game is, so if you can’t figure it out, its your fault not mine.”
Clearly, there is no one size fits all method, and depending on the genre and what the developers want the players to gain from their endeavor, different means of teaching will suit different games. The one constant however is that players must be able to access your game from the beginning, otherwise you are putting up roadblocks to something they might otherwise enjoy. Whether it is meant to be difficult or not, there must be a learning curve that is challenging yet fair, and I have never encountered a game that accomplishes this feat as seamlessly as OCTAHEDRON.
Endearing attempts to integrate a plot aside, you start the first level as a dude with an octahedron for a head, faced with a wall he can’t jump high enough to climb over. With nothing to do but press buttons, eventually you learn you can spawn platforms in mid air. These stick around for a short period of time, granting you the ability to clamber over the wall and continue your ascent through the dynamic, vertical level.
Later on you learn by necessity that you can create two platforms, due to a different obstacle you must summit which is exactly two magical floating platforms high. Upon seeing an enemy that jumps up to hit you when you walk the static platform above him, you then make the connection that your platforms could probably stop him from hurting you, and through this process of observation, connection and implementation, discover that you can move your platforms while standing on them, whizzing through the neon sky like Marty McFly on his oft coveted hoverboard.
It’s a seamless method of instruction, one that doesn’t beat players over the head with information they are likely to forget in seconds or leaves them feeling like they’re up the creek without a paddle. It relies on a level of trust between the developers and their audience, that players will try and fail, and try again without putting them in any real peril. Whenever faced with a new challenge or mechanic, or even a new way to use an old mechanic (something OCTAHEDRON also excels at), players can always take their time. There was never a moment during my playthrough where I couldn’t take a breather on a safe ledge or pause to examine my surroundings, allowing me to determine what went wrong before I tried again.
This is beautifully insightful, an example of how this game straddles that precarious line between challenging and difficult. It’s tough, no doubt about it, but not punishing, and there will never be a moment in which you are unable to take a break if you get stuck. Not putting players in a position where they feel they are repeatedly smashing their heads against a wall, but still managing to challenge them, OCTAHEDRON ensures players will have a positive experience and will be able to advance far enough to appreciate the unique mechanics that make up the core of this decidedly innovative game.
As mentioned above, OCTAHEDRON has a plot. It’s told through slow as molasses cutscenes and abstract artwork (think Laurie Lipton meets Victorian-era silhouette paintings), and in which lies the crux of my Snapchat-esque debacle: I don’t get it.
To me, it appears as though the plot has been shoehorned on in an attempt to give context or depth to a game that doesn’t need it. To me, it goes as far as to detract from what makes the game enjoyable, book-ending with these jarring, low energy interludes in a fast paced, heart pumping, techno wonderland that isn’t welcome to it. And I understand that, in the era of indie games like Undertale and Thomas was Alone, developers might feel like their game won’t be accepted on the merits of its mechanics alone, and that they need some kind of underlying story to keep players invested or to elevate it to the level of the rest of the pack.
But Mario Bros was a game about two men in jumpsuits beating up crabs and turtles in a sewer without any explanation as to why, and it still went on to spawn a franchise that has lasted over three decades. It didn’t need a plot, it was just fun. I’m out of the loop on the whole Snapchat thing, the merits of brunch, and avocado toast, so maybe I’m just not “woke” enough to understand the meaning behind this dude’s journey through the terra firma as walking stick man with a d8 head.
I don’t know, and I refuse to say for certain that the plot is inconsequential because of it. That being said, I do stand by my original assertion that the way it’s presented detracts from the flow of the game. The levels are fast paced, the music is pounding and the pop-colored, flashing backdrops culminate in a Kandi kids fever dream, so to go from that to low energy, slide show cut scenes is unsettling at best.
Music in OCTAHEDRON is not tangential, but fundamental. Each level has its own soundtrack, setting not only the tone but the pacing, guiding you through the platforming challenges almost subliminally with a catchy beat. Composed by Chipzel and Monomirror, everything from enemies to elements of the level itself follow the beat of the music, encouraging you to do the same in order to succeed. This integration of sound and gameplay is absolutely fascinating, culminating in a rhythm-action/platformer hybrid that is just a joy to play. Each tune seamlessly worms its way into your brain, and before you know it, you’d nodding along with the beat and completing a level that would have otherwise eluded you. By virtue of design though, you absolutely cannot play this game muted. I mean, you could…you’d just be doing it (and yourself) a disservice.
The level design is top notch, each a sprawling arena of roiling colors and flashing lights, and it seems that every level teaches you a new mechanic or introduces you to a new application of an old one. You are constantly learning and adapting, which keeps OCTAHEDRON feeling fresh and not repetitive, which is what all platformers should aspire to be. With upwards of 50 levels and collectables littered throughout, it’s hard to see how anyone would lose interest, and you definitely get a bang for your buck. Button mapping is simple (I played on the PS4, so I can only speak for that), but intuitive and you are able to change it in the options menu should you wish to.
While OCTAHEDRON does leave me feeling a little out of the loop, transporting me back to a time where Sonja Jadhir told me the fingerless gloves I’d just purchased were “so 2001,” it is still an incredibly fun game, and promises a good time to platforming fans looking for a twist. Pick it up on PS4, Xbox One or Steam for $12 ($15 for you, yah hoser), and be sure to let me know your take on this platform spawning, hover jumping, techno pumping extravaganza should you do so!
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
OCTAHEDRON is the indie platformer that will make your raver heart skip a beat
Gameplay - 9/10
Design - 10/10
Plot - 7/10
+ Seamless passive instruction that allows you to learn through observation, connection and implementation
+ Amazing soundtrack with a pumping beat that is fully integrated into the level design
+ Neat new mechanic of spawning platforms mid air to complete stages and pass challenges
+ Collectibles and bonuses for perfectly completing levels, for us rabid completionists
+ Challenging, yet fair
+ SO PRETTY
– A plot that feels forced and creates a sense of tonal dissonance
– Casual platforming fans or newbies might not enjoy it, as this game is pretty difficult
– I’m honestly having a hard time thinking of cons…