Okabu Review


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Poignant and haunting, Dr. Seuss’ take on environmental degradation, clothed in a whimsical children’s story, communicates a tough message through his soft medium. Hand Circus, the developer behind Rolando and Rolando 2 for iOS, attempts to modernize that message with its first foray into console gaming, Okabu. It lacks the tact and precision of The Lorax, and slaps kid gloves on each level, rarely empowering the player to explore or deduce. The concept is admirable; the execution disappoints.

The cel-shaded world of the Yorubo falls victim to the smog of industrialization and two cloud whales (Kumulo and Nimbe) collaborate with villagers and mother earth to fend off pollution. Infused with traditional African rhythm and lyrical music, set in a tribal landscape facing extinction, Okabu‘s inspirations are clear. I bought into the ideas through the first couple of levels. I learned through careful tutorials how the whales manipulate their world to clean up the smudge and defeat the scheming Doza. I learned through explanatory cutscenes how to use one of the four cloud-riding characters to pull, control, or lead component A to B to C to clean a river. Then the tutorials didn’t stop. Then they were in every level. Then it felt like a job.


A village needs its vegetation restored, so I’m told to use the cloud’s absorptive properties to collect lake water and pour it over the thirsty plants. Shortly thereafter, the village needs its campfires restored, so I’m told to absorb oil from a nearby reservoir to create a fire trail and reignite. Two levels later, in a separate but similar village, I’m told to perform the same two tasks with more plants and woodpiles. The explanations take almost as long as the act. Two stages later… well, you can imagine my underwhelmed sighs.

It’s not such an unforgivable sin for a game to repeat itself – most games do, in fact, after giving the player an ample toolset to use in problem solving. Forcing repetitive tasks with simple, singular solutions, rarely adding anything appreciably different does, it turns out, grind my gears. These tasks feel like chores after the first or second time, and persist to the end. New elements are introduced, like new cloud riders, but they’re more frustrating than interesting. Instead of facing a new challenge with the same tools, I’m facing the same challenge with different tools, which are then repeated ad nauseum. My kingdom for a slingshot.

The tools themselves fit the non-violent, collaborative spirit of the game. One rider uses a plunger to move objects, another leads people and animals to open doors, remove obstacles, power generators. One uses a squirrel (I think?) to carry electrical wires, another controls robots. Easily the most engaging moments involve manipulating robots because of the powerful variety of their abilities. Every other character leaves the clouds vulnerable, putting the player in a permanent defensive stance. Ghandi would be proud; it just doesn’t make for a great game.

Herein lays my conflict. Teaching kids (the difficulty and spoon-feeding force that audience) the value of solving environmental crises by using available natural resources and avoiding outright combat in favor of well-thought out solutions is priceless. Kids should be learning this stuff, and what better way than in a game. Kids won’t learn this stuff in Okabu because they’re bored when being instructed to lead a bull onto a treadmill for the tenth time.

I support Okabu‘s much-needed spirit and ingenuity, but it needs to give the player some freedom. It’s risky to empower the player to explore new solutions, seek out unexplored areas, and discover meaning on their own. It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure. With more of that kind of balance, Okabu would impress young and aged gamers, while delivering a strong pro-environmental message. Unbalanced as it is, Okabu‘s dogma is unheard.


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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