It’s summer time again and, as is the yearly trend, that means Xbox LIVE Arcade will soon be barraged by a torrent of titles. Some of these will undoubtedly be better than others. Out of this year’s pile comes Ancients of Ooga, a unique take on the platforming and puzzle game genres which sadly falls in the category of one of those “others”. While there is charm and character in this hard to define title, it is squashed by poor controls and repetition which makes the relatively short campaign feel like a never-ending grind.
The plot of Ancients of Ooga revolves around the seven tribes of the Oogani: Gremlin-like creatures endowed with various mystical powers. The Oogani have fallen on hard times as the barbaric tribe known as the Boolis have tricked the hapless Oogani using psychedelic slugs into capturing their tribal chiefs (yes, I said psychedelic slugs). Before the Oogani can snap out of their slug-induced stupor, the Boolis burned their chiefs to death and left the tribes scattered and clueless. The player takes the role of the Great Spirit of Ooga, an entity that can possess the bodies of Oogani tribe members, and is tasked with resurrecting each of the seven tribal chiefs, reuniting the tribes, and driving the Boolis from their lands once and for all. The quirky story premise, accompanied by some humorous writing, is perhaps the greatest strength of Ancients of Ooga.
That being said, the modes offered here are slim. In fact, the 50 plus levels of the campaign are all that you’ll find in Ancients of Ooga. The campaign can be played cooperatively with a friend on the same TV, but there are no online features aside from Leaderboards. Players can go back and select any chapter they’ve already finished from the campaign menu, and the game also hints at downloadable content in the future. However, chances are that after finishing the 5-6 hours of gameplay included, you’ll have just about had your fill of Ooganis and Boolis.
Ancients of Ooga has a likable sense of humor
As far as gameplay is concerned, it’s actually somewhat difficult to pin down what Ancients of Ooga is trying to be. At first glance, it seems very much a standard side-scrolling platform game. Although the game uses 3D models and environments with the illusion of depth of movement, the game progresses in a strictly two-dimensional manner. However, after a few levels, it becomes apparent that Ancients of Ooga is just as much a puzzler as a platformer. Each level progresses more or less the same as you are tasked with collecting specific items throughout the stage and taking them to important Oogani, sacrificial altars, or other specified areas of the stage.
If this sounds like just about every level deteriorates into a repetitive fetch quest, then you would be partially correct. What makes the game unique is that each Oogani tribe has distinct abilities that aid in traversing various hazards. For example, the Harvest tribe can walk unharmed through dangerous brambles while the Stone tribe can use their hard heads to bust through rock barriers. Also, seeing as you play as the Spirit of Ooga, you will be jumping from one Oogani to another as you work out how to best traverse each of the stage’s puzzles. Often, you will use one Oogani to work a lever or other mechanism and then switch to another available character to get on a catapult, sneak through a hatch, or jump on a moving platform. These two elements of gameplay, combined with the way Oogani can “chew” and swallow items for maximum item-carrying efficiency or for unique effects, could have resulted in a fun and varied gaming experience. Unfortunately, Ancients of Ooga is rarely either.
The main problems stem from the controls and repetition involved in the game. As was stated earlier, each level is essentially a puzzle-based fetch quest. While these could have increased steadily in difficulty across the 50 something levels in the campaign which would have given the game a solid driving force, instead they deteriorate into the same mindless process for each of the game’s seven tribes.
The Ogaani have some skills so of their own, including horrible breath
There are some levels that deviate from this template, but they are neither numerous nor interesting enough to save this game from monotony. It also doesn’t help that the controls feel terribly slippery at times, and it can be a pain making even basic jumps. What little in the way of combat that is presented here also suffers from an extremely spastic nature; neither of these spells fun. Playing as the more powerful chiefs of each respective tribe alleviates most of the flaws Ancients of Ooga presents, but it doesn’t help the fact that the game itself just isn’t that entertaining.
Interesting is certainly one way to describe Ancients of Ooga’s presentation. The game’s character models ooze with spastic charm much like the Gremlins they so closely resemble. The basic animations and emotes of the Oogani are actually quite good even if they might not have the highest polygon count. The stages, on the other hand, don’t hold up quite as well. The repetition one feels from the gameplay is only exacerbated when each and every single level in the game’s seven chapters looks so darn similar. The sound is similarly bare bones, with the Oogani’s grunts and squawks the only notable sound effects among the myriad stock sounds of bashing, flames, and belching. The soundtrack is made up of tribal tunes which can be catchy, but are overall forgettable.
Therein lays the problem with Ancients of Ooga. Despite its attempts to stand up above the crowd and be unique, it’s just a forgettable experience that just isn’t much fun. It isn’t a bad game at ten dollars by any stretch of the word, some enjoyment can be squeezed from it if you play it in short bursts, but with other XBLA titles coming down the pipeline, the Ancients of Ooga should pardon you if you give this game a pass.