Puzzle platformers are a unique breed of games. No other genre has as much variety and originality flowing through its veins, and other than a few exceptions, most games developed within the niche market turn out wonderfully. Of course, we have Portal to thank for the popularity of the genre and for the slew of copycats that came after it.
In case you couldn’t tell, Ibb and Obb is indeed a puzzle platformer, although it does more than resurface the usual and try to hand it off as brand new. In fact, the project presents a new gameplay mechanic that takes old ideas and makes them new again, literally flipping our perceptions of what can be done within the world. Rather than using a plot device to manipulate the environment, everything begins and ends with one simple concept: the world is split in half.
Every level is divided horizontally, and small barriers allow both Ibb and Obb to enter the other side, leaving them hanging upside down on the bottom half or standing strong on the top half. This deceptively simple mechanic opens up a vast array of solutions to puzzles based around navigating the two through each stage. No two levels play alike, and the dizzying switches between perspectives keeps the game fresh.
Most puzzles are based on the fact that Ibb and Obb are simply too short to pass over a certain barrier. Players must explore above and below the surface to find a way through every situation, and tons of creativity is needed to find just the right way to toy with physics. Similar to Portal, momentum is a key element to some sections, while skillful placement and timing solve others. Needless to say, there is a vast amount of puzzle solving required to keep pushing forward, and it’s never made easy after the first level.
Black, prickly enemies are scattered throughout the landscape, and are impossible to kill unless you burst the white bubble attached to them on the opposite side. If one is crawling along the top half of the screen, their white bubble is directly below them, and vice versa. Destroying them yields diamonds that are collected and counted at the end of each level. However, once these gems scatter, they’re ridiculously hard to collect, and if you miss them the first time, they’re gone forever.
This is where Ibb and Obb starts to show its dark side. Despite it’s exquisitely colorful environments and characters, tranquil soundtrack and quirky sound effects, this is a tough puzzler. Even veteran puzzle solvers will be stuck more than once, and as more tools are discovered to aid your quest, more confusion will follow. Of course, at the heart of every puzzler is confusion, because gamers live for that moment when the light bulb flickers on and a solution makes itself present after countless attempts and failures.
Patience is a virtue not everyone has in spades, however, and it is tested early and often. The difficulty curve is unusually sharp, and the bright, bursting visuals can cause headaches easily. Even if you’re used to gaming for hours on end, the visuals will eventually strain your sight, just as the puzzles strain your mind. I took a ton of breaks in between sessions of play, mostly to rest my eyes and calm my temper.
Not every game needs a plot, especially a puzzle-based one, but the lack of any motivation to push further took a toll a few hours into Ibb and Obb. Even if it was difficult, Portal and its sequel (sorry for the constant comparisons) kept me pushing through the brutality simply because it had a fantastic setting. Most of this game is spent in the colorful, artfully designed environments described above, but it’s just a string of puzzles. Some might enjoy the simplicity of it, though.
The best way to derive the most fun out of Ibb and Obb is to play with a friend, because everything works best when it’s approached by two fresh, open minds. During my time, I played through the levels with two different people, and each of them had their own way of viewing the puzzles. It’s a great exercise in teamwork, and being able to share that success with a friend is even sweeter. Maneuvering through difficult sections and coming out on top brings with it a level of satisfaction that can hardly be matched.
However, the single player should be avoided if at all possible. When playing with a friend, the critters are controlled with the left stick and jump with the X button. Simple enough. During single player, each character is relegated to one analog stick, and jumping is accomplished by pushing up. Many puzzles are near impossible to navigate with this control scheme because the precision required is too great for one person to manage on their own.
I understand that Ibb and Obb was developed with multiplayer in mind, but it’s a shame they punished anybody who doesn’t constantly have access to friends at all times. Not everybody has the convenience of a constant flow of buddies ready to play a game at the drop of a hat. The single player mode just feels lazy and tacked on, which is a shame since there could have been a better route to go down.
That being said though, Ibb and Obb is a mostly satisfying puzzler when conquered with a friend. The obstacles are difficult, but never insurmountable, and the success of teamwork is as gratifying as it can be. Beautifully constructed levels and a serene soundtrack add to the joy, but if you’re not a fan of puzzlers, this won’t convert you. It’s just a shame the game decided to punish anybody who doesn’t live their lives around their friends’ schedules. If you can’t get enough of cutesy characters, challenging puzzles and bright environments, then you’re already sold. Just remember to bring a friend along for the experience.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.
Fun puzzles, bright environments and fun teamwork manage to save Ibb and Obb from its poorly executed single player and sharp learning curve.