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[review] Koi PS4 Review GDC-KOI

A question kept swimming around my head whilst playing Oasis
Games’ Koi. With it wanting to sell itself on such a strong
message, does it really have the depth to back it up? I asked
this because sometimes it seemed like it was a little too
shallow for what it wished to achieve, but then concerns
would melt away as the game did something pleasingly well
with its subject matter (pollution), before once again leading
me to question it for something else. So another question arose
Is it the depth that’s an issue? Or is it one of significance and

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Koi is that it’s the first
Chinese-developed game to be released in the west for PlayStation
4. it doesn’t shy away from a hot button issue either, as its
overriding theme is that of environmental issues. This depth
beyond the shallows is most apparent in the game’s opening levels,
where they have a laborious simplicity that belies the slightly more
challenging game to come. Koi feels like it should be a journey
into something meaningful, whilst leaning heavily on established
gaming mechanisms for comfort.

[review] Koi PS4 Review Koi-screenshot-05-ps4-us-2mar16

You play from a top-down perspective in Koi, and your character is, perhaps
unsurprisingly, a Koi fish, a lonely orange-scaled one at that. This Koi is
seemingly the answer to mankind’s incessant pollution of the waters it swims
in. You do this by rounding up other fish, who are hiding from a monstrous
black fish that patrols the area, and taking them to their color-coordinated
blossom flower and making it bloom. This helps to give life to the area and
once all the fish in an area are matched up with their flower, the stage is
cleared and the black fish is purified by your white light burst of purification
to reveal a smaller pixy fish underneath. As a result, you get to continue on
to the next area. So far, so straightforward.

As I already mentioned, it’s all a little too simplified and uneventful in the
opening two levels, but later on, the game begins to throw new challenges at
you, with branching paths and currents pulling you through levels at speed.
The part that’s of most interest however, is a selection of memory puzzles.
These puzzles are fairly basic in format, but Oasis Games did make sure it has
penalties for each to perk them up a bit. For instance, to remove a branch,
you’ll hear a musical pattern played out by different leaves on the branch being
lit up and will have to replicate it to pass. Get three increasingly longer sequences
correct then the branch responds and moves. If you fail one note, then it’s back to
the start. Other puzzles follow a similar pattern, giving you a little memory
workout each time. It’s not going to make you marvel at the game’s genius by
any stretch, and on occasion they don’t feel particularly fun to play with their
enforced rulesets, but it is at least a nice change of pace from the regular
objectives, mainly because they free you from the threat of the ominous black
Koi for a moment.

The black Koi is present in each level, and acts as a representation of the effect
of pollution on the wildlife of the waterways. Its vision is narrow but long, and
when it catches you or any other Koi you’ve got tagging along in its sights, it begins
to pursue you until you break line of sight. Luckily, or perhaps unfortunately, it’s a
dumb beast, easily tricked even in later, more complex levels. If it catches you
then it merely stuns you for a short while (something that can be sped up by
mashing the circle button). It does do damage to any fish following you however,
meaning you’ll have to recover them in order to get them following you again.
In the early stages it’s relatively easy to track back if needed, but once you get
into the more labyrinthine stages then it becomes necessary to take on a more
cautious approach, lest you end up swimming back further and further to retrieve
the vulnerable Koi.

[review] Koi PS4 Review Koi-screenshot-06-ps4-us-2mar16

To tempt you to stray from the safer path, and keep your eyes doing some
extra work, there are two sets of collectables in Koi. One is stars, five per level
that seem to give you a star rating at the end of the stage; I’m not quite sure why,
as it isn’t explained very well. The other is four jigsaw puzzle pieces per level
that, if completed, give you a nice picture. Again, this is nothing particularly
useful or exciting, but at least you get a nice picture out of it. I suppose it is in
keeping with the fairly serene atmosphere that Koi embraces.

There’s a marvelous sense of tranquility about Koi. The simple, bold and colorful
design is incredibly easy on the eyes, making good use of very little. The soundtrack,
by Chinese recording artist Zeta, is brimming with sedate plinky piano compositions,
designed to soothe and relax. There’s a charming uniformity to everything about Koi.
That aforementioned simplicity is key to that, from the visuals and audio to the way
the game itself plays. Koi’s intro may not be bursting with excitement, but it doesn’t
irritate you because it is made very clear that this is a game meant to be experienced
more than beaten. Sure, there are objectives and goals, but frustration is kept low
as you only need to do the bare minimum in order to progress, and the extra parts
are pretty easy to find if you so wish. Koi can’t really be classed as much of a
challenge as a result, but it is at the very least a pleasant way to pass a few hours.

I do however wish its message of pollution was better enforced. The general
idea is there, and it ties into how the game operates really well, yet it’s probably
done a little too well, as the impact of that message is diluted by the implementation.
As such, it feels a touch neglected. A shame then, as everything else manages to be
so in line with the design brief. A little more conviction could have seen Koi go against
the current and become something special. Alas, it will have to make do with being a
competent and tranquil cruise of a videogame.

[review] Koi PS4 Review Team-PSN_zpstdbeyqg5
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