Despite being the most populous country in the world, it’s rare that a Chinese developed game is released worldwide. In fact, not a single Chinese developed PlayStation 4 title has come to Western territories. Thankfully, that’s changing due to Chinese publisher Oasis Games, as they’ve now brought over Dotoyou’s KOI, a colorful exploration game.
The gameplay in KOI is quite simple. Players move their orange Koi around a pond while collecting other stray fish, and then lead them to similarly colored flowers. This will then cause the flower to bloom, and the player can continue swimming along to match together other pairs. The goal of all of this is to rid the water of pollution.
It’s very one note, and no additional mechanics are implemented throughout the entirety of the experience. You’ll just be tasked with finding fish and then leading them to flowers, over and over again. There’s no challenge to be found here either, which makes for a downright boring experience. While there are evil black fish that will attack when they see the player, they can only temporarily stun you. Thus, they’re a non-issue and you lose nothing by getting hit by one.
The lack of challenge wouldn’t be an issue if there was at least some variety, but there just isn’t any to be found here besides some terrible attempts at puzzles. Several times during KOI players will encounter blockades that can only be passed by essentially playing a children’s game. There are only two types, a Simon ripoff that has you tapping leaves in order, and one where you have to find matching fish patterns. Neither are particularly fun, and the matching puzzle has a frustratingly tight time limit that will only frustrate players.
If there’s one bright spot in the package, it’s KOI‘s visual design. While it’s won’t drop your jaw like Journey or Flower, it has a nice aesthetic that is both simple and elegant. You’ll also get to see a a solid variety of backgrounds as your journey takes you from the opening pond to the pollution filled sewers. The colorful fish also really start to pop off the screen later on in contrast to the dark waters they are swimming in.
It won’t take long for players to see every visual that KOI has to offer, which is probably a good thing considering how limited the game is mechanically. It’ll only take an hour to reach the 8th and final level. After you complete it, you’ll probably be wondering why the story didn’t come to an end, and that’s because the game actually has an alternate way to end the level (a concept that was never introduced beforehand) which allows players to actually see the ending cutscene.
That would be fine if KOI actually communicated that in some way, but instead, I was left with no clue as to why the 9th level (which is actually just a short cutscene) was unavailable. This led to me replaying the game, trying to find all of the hidden objects (which are stars and puzzle pieces which tell the story). They’re generally pretty easy to spot, so it didn’t take too long to do, but the lack of communication from the game to the player is downright infuriating.
This is made even worse by there being no way to view what collectibles you have during a level. It’s such a simple thing to include, and by not doing so Dotoyou has made the experience needlessly frustrating. This led to me replaying stages several times more than I had to since I figured I had all the puzzle pieces only to realize I was missing some once I went back to the stage select. Games need to communicate with the player, and that’s one area where KOI fails. Eventually, I realized all this extra effort was for naught, as I simply had to complete the level a different way to see the ending.
A few small tweaks could’ve made KOI a much less frustrating game to play through. It’s disappointing that a game that seems so relaxing at first ends up being such an annoyance by the end. That’s what happens when players aren’t given communication, though.
While it definitely has its faults, I’m glad that KOI has seen a worldwide release. While it’s probably going to be remembered more as the answer to a trivia question rather than a great experience, it’s still an important first step. One that will lead to even better games coming from China down the line.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with.
KOI is a pretty face with not much to offer beyond that. The gameplay has little substance to it, and it feels repetitive, even though the whole thing lasts less than two hours. It's a nice idea, but one that shows China's indie scene still needs time to develop.