And though Oozi is a relatively modern game, it’s been a long time in the making: The first alpha footage appeared on the project blog in the Spring of 2010, and episode #1 arrived in Xbox Live Indie Games almost a year later. More episodes arrived every 6 months or so, with the fourth and final installment landing last September. About a week later, all of the episodes were bundled up and released for PC.
Overview & Story
There’s clearly a lot of indie love and sweat poured into this game: All the characters and animations are hand-drawn, and it feels like a lot of thought went into the level design. There’s nothing really revolutionary in Oozi, but I don’t think that’s what they were after: Oozi is just a straightforward love-letter to earlier days of gaming.
At the start Oozi, crashes his “super cool spaceship” on Earth after a malfunction during a routine delivery trip. He’s left with nothing but his pants, and is immediately faced with hordes of garden critters who seem determined to exterminate our hero. Even the trees are against him, as they rain down flaming acorns.
From there, your mission is to collect stars, stomp enemies, and hop your way to the end of the level in search of your gear and your ship. Most critters can be head-stomped, unless they’ve grown spikes. Some armored critters require a more forceful stomp, and can sometimes be punched across the screen when stunned to eliminate themselves and others in their path. You have several health points, so luckily a single brush with danger won’t send you back to a checkpoint. And, each level is sprinkled with enough checkpoints to keep from being too frustrating—pretty standard stuff for this genre.
As mentioned before, the four previously released episodes are bundled together on PC, represented as Worlds. Each World has five levels and a boss, making for 24 levels in all. You’ll make your way through gardens, underground caverns, a top secret laboratory, and finally escape from Earth to an alien planet.
And like the oldest retro platformers, there’s not much in the way of AI or even randomness in these levels: The enemies all pretty much follow set routes, making each segment of a level between checkpoints more or less a timing puzzle. Even the bosses at the end of each world follow multi-stage patterns—once you’ve worked out the sequence, you’ve mastered it.
What is kind of interesting about the level design, though, is that despite being basically linear there are occasional forks in the road that may lead to the exit or to a secret hidden star. If you’re obsessively completionist like me, you’ll find yourself at the exit and remember skipping a detour. This leads to backtracking: Some levels seem to have anticipated this as an added challenge, and the hazards you had to navigate going forward are entirely different puzzles in reverse.
As far as power-ups go, you get extra health at certain score points, and your score is accumulated through collecting stars and eliminating enemies. Every few stages, Oozi recovers another piece of gear he lost in the initial crash.
For example: The legs to his space suit grant a double-jump, and the gloves let him grip walls for climbing shafts by bouncing between the sides.
The controls are pretty tight: You can use the keyboard, an Xbox 360 controller, or even the mouse—I’d steer clear of the mouse, though; it’s a fairly awkward scheme. You can walk left and right, with a bit of momentum to watch out for when stopping. You can jump with fair precision, control direction in mid-air, and trigger a quick plummeting stomp.
You can look further into the level with up and down, which is handy for getting a sense for hazards ahead before jumping or bouncing into the unknown. Overall, I felt like the controls were responsive enough that I could only really blame myself for any screw-ups.
There is a bit of replay value, once you’ve gotten through the initial 24 levels in the three difficulties of Story Mode: Arcade Mode invites you to give all those 20 levels another try (excluding the bosses), against a time limit and trying for a score ranking. And, depending on how you did at collecting stars and hidden stars throughout Story Mode, you’ll have unlocked up to 44 Challenge Mode levels and bonus levels. These standalone levels demand certain conditions, such as losing no health, surviving a timed onslaught, or eliminating all enemies of a certain type or leaving some alone.
Music & Sound
Music and sound in general, alas, is where this game seems to fall short. Most of the background tunes sound like really old-school PC MIDI card stuff—and not necessarily in a nostalgic way. Though the music gets more interesting as the levels progress, I have to say the World 1 music was really putting me to sleep. Sound effects are present—which is about the best I can say about them. There’s nothing particularly brilliant in the sound design, and even the main character’s death is just kind of a vague groan.
So, finally, is this game worth your money and time? There’s a free demo, so you can try before you buy.
I’m hard-pressed to say it’s worth the price. I mean, back in the day, we’d drop $25-30 on something like this—and Oozi is a competent execution of a family-friendly, retro platformer. But, the four original episodes went for $1 each when they were released on Xbox Live Indie Games. I didn’t try the Xbox releases, so I’m not sure if those came with all the Arcade and Challenge levels. And, even if they didn’t, can their addition justify more than doubling the price? Especially when I look at what I can get for the same on Steam?
But, speaking of Steam: The developers of Oozi are hoping to get traction on a Steam Greenlight campaign, so they can release the game on Steam. I wish them a lot of luck, especially if they could work in Steam achievements to enhance things like the Challenge & Arcade levels. I’d imagine this game would be a no-brainer to snatch up during Steam sales, but then I’m a cheapskate and a sucker for those sales.
Overall, this is a great little retro platformer. It doesn’t try anything new, but it sticks to the classic formula very well. Oozi: Earth Adventure really gave me flashbacks to my Amiga, SNES, and Genesis gaming days. Those were good days. If those were good days for you too, you might want to give this game a shot.