THE NATURE OF BALANCE: MY TIME WITH THE EVEN THE OCEAN DEMO

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I’ve been playing video games since I was barely old enough to stand, which was sometime around the late 80s. As I grew older, games continued to introduce new experiences and design concepts, but eventually, I reached an age where I felt as though I wasn’t experiencing much newness. Luckily, the indie scene and the infinite amount of creativity coming from it has presented me with more unique experiences than I can ask for. One of my favorites I’ve played recently was Anodyne, which takes the typical top-down action adventure formula popularized by The Legend of Zelda series and fills it with peculiar story and eyebrow raising absurdity. It’s an abstract game with a lot to chew on. Needless to say: I loved it!

So, I was excited to learn that the developers of Anodyne were busily working on their next game Even The Ocean. And I was even more excited to find out a demo was on the way. I awoke yesterday to find the demo sitting in my inbox waiting for me, compliments of developer Sean Hogan. Presented as a tech demo instead of an actual chunk of the game to avoid spoilers, the Even The Ocean demo (which you can download yourself right here) immediately screamed “potential” directly in my face.

Even The Ocean is actually two games in one. The Ocean, an action-platformer with puzzle elements that allows you to explore nature-themed environments and play with the game’s clever mechanics. And Even, described as a more slice-of-life “daydream-exploration-platforming hybrid game” that takes the mechanics from The Ocean and utilizes them in a slightly different way. This duality presents a theme that is also quite prevalent in the gameplay elements as well: balance. One game sets itself up to allow you to explore nature, while the other puts itself in a more modern setting. How these themes will interconnect remains to be seen, but the potential is there right away.

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The gameplay itself plays out like a traditional action platformer. You can jump and cling to walls. Use a shield to block projectiles. However, the focus of the game isn’t on combat, but on utilizing the unique gameplay focus to survive hostile environments. The game rather emphatically tosses aside the use of power-ups and upgrades in favor of focusing on it’s core concept: the energy bar. At the bottom of the screen is a single bar colored purple and white, which represents two kinds of energy. Throughout the environments are various things that, upon contact, fill the character with one of the two kinds of energy. You’re also provided a shield to use to “block” energy projectiles that may give you an unwanted push in the wrong direction.

This has two different purposes. First, it replaces a traditional health bar. If your bar fills entirely with one or the other, it’s game over. This requires careful consideration of how you approach obstacles. If you’re too full of purple energy, you may need to find a source of white energy to “balance”, or simply try to find ways to avoid purple obstacles to survive.

The second use is to power up your character. White energy slows your movement, but increases your jump height the more white the bar goes. Purple does the opposite, causing your jumps to be shorter, but giving you a higher movement speed. Once again, balance is key, as you’ll need to make sure you have enough of a certain energy to get around the game’s environmental platforming puzzles. Can’t reach that high ledge? Find a source of white energy to fill the meter up to access higher jumping.

As you can imagine, this lends itself to a different kind of challenge than most platformers present. Avoiding obstacles and utilizing the meter to power yourself up while making sure not to overload on one energy and kill yourself. The demo provided a four-room test chamber that showcased various obstacles and concepts that use this singular mechanic in different ways. It was impressive just how many ways this one thing could be used to great effect in just a short demo.

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The demo also speaks of two separate types of gameplay. Normal exploration-focused levels and special “gauntlet” rooms which are slightly more linear, but seem to be more focused on really testing your skill at using the balance aspects. The gauntlet rooms felt like more of a sheer test of skill, while the exploration focused part of the demo was slightly more calming, allowing you to look around and consider what paths you wished to take. How these two elements will play out in the main game remains to be seen, but the amount of variety it can present is promising.

I’m already impressed by the way this game is designed around the central theme of balance, not only in it’s use of two different games to present narrative balance, but also in how it’s utilized in the very design of the gameplay as well. Combining both gameplay and narrative together under the same theme is something that isn’t often approached, and it gives the game a real sense of cohesion as a whole, even from such a short tech demo. I’d highly recommend taken an hour to sit down with the demo and give it a shot. The game is still a ways off, with no solid release date, but it’s definitely worth keeping on your radar if you’re into puzzle platformers that, if this demo is any indication, will provide a unique challenge as well.

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