The humble dot
From the early days of Pong, the humble dot has played an inexorable role in the video game world. In Ovivo, the dot returns as the protagonist, exploring a mysterious world where the rules of physics shift like magic.
Ovivo is a platform-adventure that blurs the line between game and interactive art. Although it works from a spartan color pallet of black and white, the imagery created is far from simple. [EN: Spoiler alert] As you flick through the world, hidden images bubble to the surface of your awareness — one moment you’re navigating a rocky cave full of sharp hazards, the next, you realize the “cave” was the insides of a massive dragon.
You begin as a black dot rolling on a black plane. You can roll left or right, but not jump. Your first obstacle is a hill too steep to roll over. For other dots this may mean the end, but not for you! You can chameleon-shift to white, and suddenly the sky becomes the floor. Gravity is different on this side, pushing up instead of down. Timing the switch between colors to maximize the effects of gravity, you can fly by would-be obstructions.
Although peculiar, the movement in Ovivo is surprisingly intuitive. Once I grasped the timing, I transitioned between black and white in an oscillating, fluid pattern, almost as if the dot were bobbing on the surface of a fast-flowing river. The controls are straightforward enough not to require explanation, which is good, because Ovivo offers none, anywhere.
Ovivo transcends the barriers of language by never using words, instead implementing an elegant system of symbols, even in the menus. As a result, Ovivo is play-ready for anyone. However, this introduces a new set of limitations. Due to being managed by symbols, the control options are binary. You may either use a controller or a keyboard, and key-remapping is not an option.
In the realm of first-world problems, the absence of key-remapping is merely annoying. In Ovivo, shifting from white to black is tied to the space bar. Fast-tapping to propel your dot over a tricky section of the map creates quite the clatter, especially for those (like myself) who use mechanical keyboards. Furthermore, this setup could also alienate players whose physical needs require different key setups.
The absence of words also has the unfortunate effect of leaving the player without a purpose. Ovivo is like a child of Monument Valley, with its physics-defying gameplay and esoteric imagery, and Shift, the near-ancient, black-and-white flash game. Although light on words and simplistic in play, both Shift and Monument Valley have clear goals, whereas Ovivo does not.
A goal unto itself
Throughout each level, there are smaller dots to collect, but there no apparent benefit to doing so. I suspect their function is to provide a general idea of where to go next, because that’s not obvious either. In Ovivo, levels meander in intricate patterns, without a defined sense of what you’re trying to reach, or where it may be. As you travel, you collect glyphs in addition to the dots. There are nine small glyphs and three larger glyphs. The smaller glyphs may not be required. I obtained eight of the smaller nine, but when I collected the third of the large glyphs, I moved up to the next level. If the smaller glyphs aren't required to progress, why bother collecting them? Here the shortage of explanation hurts rather than helps; without objectives or purpose, most of the gameplay feels pointless.
Not every title needs a purpose, of course. Exploration is often a goal unto itself, and the levels of Ovivo are unique and exciting enough engender a joy of discovery. Sadly, a significant flaw hobbles exploration: it is not possible to save the game. Or, if saving is an option, the method isn't explained. Without the ability to save, the player has to start over from the beginning every time. While compelling, the levels of Ovivo do not readily inspire endless replayability.
Be forewarned that levels increase in difficulty towards the end. At first, Ovivo has a soothing, meditative feel. This is enhanced by the slow thrum of its dreamy music. As the level progresses, however, the gameplay becomes more frantic, and timing is critical. Unlimited lives ease the frustration of frequent, un-avoidable deaths, and generous checkpoints are spaced throughout. Despite this, some areas are challenging, and passing a troublesome area loses its appeal if you know you must endure the same struggle every time you want to play.
I had hoped that in lieu of a manual save, there would be an autosave feature once a level was complete. This is not the case, and the lack of a save feature is a significant detriment to an otherwise enjoyable title. Casual games are great when you want to play without a huge commitment. Forcing the player to invest time replaying the same levels over and over eliminates a large chunk of the appeal of this genre.
Ovivo is a beautiful piece that melds art, exploration, and mystery in a unique platform–adventure title. The levels are engaging, the gameplay intuitive. Unfortunately, the lack of clear objectives, control customization, and the inability to save game progress limits the overall appeal.