Puzzle games can offer a rare insight into how a person ticks. Are they analytical? Can someone who is analytical also master a mechanical prowess that many puzzle games require? Mix in a co-op element, and a person has to have patience as well as the ability to communicate well with others. Now add one more layer of puzzling challenge where the visual presentation requires the ability to interpret the left to right, top to bottom movement of a two-dimensional platformer, while a second player has to perform the same movements, only on the opposite side of that traditional platformer plane of existence.
This, my friends, is Ibb and Obb.
Ibb and Obb is from the creatively devious minds of Sparpweed. What at first seems like a calm, sparse puzzle-platformer, quickly becomes a total mind fuck. The game world is presented with a line drawn across the middle of the screen. One character moves along on the top of the line and the other character runs and jumps upside down on the bottom side in a sort of mirrored image where the gravitational pull changes depending on which half of the plane your character is on. The two characters must work together in unison, crossing between planes and coordinating movements to overcome deadly objects which can only be destroyed from one side of the line or the other. Easy peasy, right? Sometimes. Mostly not.
Part of the problem is that even though ibb is green and obb is purple-ish, both characters occupy the same space, albeit on opposite sides. My feeble mind easily gets confused as I start to watch the other character with the assumption that I’m controlling pink and not green and unintentionally send green to his doom. Coordination is key, but in addition to wrapping your mind around playing on two sides of the same environment, what makes the game so difficult is the precise timing required during jumps combined with learning how to avoid totally veering off course while in mid-air because movement in the game is super loose and squirrely. Hidden checkpoints allow for quick trial and error while mastering a particular jump, but often a short segment of jumps can be quickly dashed by a hazard that was either hidden by grass or was walked into on accident due to the fidgety controls.
The game structure is broken up into levels that at first glance don’t seem to show when one ends and the next begins. The motif of a single line running through the whole game is central to the level design as you could in theory play from start to finish and not realize how far you have gone until you reach the end. Starting from Limbo (the in-game menu) allows you to skip past completed levels and start at the latest unfinished level. Limbo also allows for a similar run through of just traveling along a single line with deadly obstacles and head scratching jumps.
Ibb and Obb is designed for co-op, either online or couch. Voice chat is supposed to be supported during online play, but during my play time I never would have known this because no one I played with responded to my attempts to communicate. Clearly thinking ahead for such situations of lacking verbal communication, Sparpweed built into the controls an ability to draw a line to help offer a way to tell the other player where to stand, jump, etc. Drawing this line is done with the right stick while the left stick controls movement and X performs a jump. Playing couch co-op offers the added advantage of always being able to chat with the other player and point out how and when to jump, but that advantage doesn’t necessarily help given how tricky the controls are. Online co-op is a whole other ball of wax. Clearly the drawing feature helps, but lag between players can be problematic as any delayed or skewed response will spell certain doom.
However, I will admit that I sort of prefer playing online over couch co-op because, with chat disabled, I can shout and rant at the other player without feeling guilty that I am verbally abusing someone for being so stupid for missing a simple jump. Of course I’m sure the few folks I played with online were saying the exact same thing about my horrid puzzle-solving abilities and lack of control during seriously crazy jumps. For those (such as myself) who have alienated their couch co-op partners and seem to drop online partners before completing even one full level, Ibb and Obb does offer a solo mode, but it should not be viewed as a main option except for gamers capable of performing uncanny feats of ambidexterity. Playing co-op with someone else is already perplexing enough; attempting to control two characters at the same time and coordinate movements from a single DualShock will absolutely melt your brain.
I have honestly never felt so stressed playing a puzzle game before. I like to think I’m smart, but Ibb and Obb pulls all sense of intelligence from my being and smacks me across the face. I love the sparse art style, and the music provides a mellowing counter point to puzzles that logically can be pieced together but (in my head at least) often seem near impossible to execute with or without co-op partners. I have played with all three of my kids and they all enjoyed the aesthetic, but admitted that they have had more fun doing homework than playing this game.
Ibb and Obb is a game that probably will be a breeze for geniuses and/or madmen (typically they are one and the same). I guess I’m glad to learn that I’m not a madman, but also saddened to learn that I am no genius. If frustratingly floaty controls don’t bother you and you have the patience of a saint, Ibb and Obb is likely something that will provide you joy to no end. For all others I would suggest first playing the demo or waiting for a sale.
+ Challenging puzzles designed for online and couch co-op
+ Striking, sparse art style that pops visually as levels progress
+ Mellow, zen-like music
- Floaty, loose controls
- Lag during online play can ruin the experience
- Brain melting solo play (especially later in the game)
Platform: PS3 via PSN
Developer: Sparpweed / Codeglue
Release Date: 8/6/2013
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2 (online and local co-op)
Source: Review code provided by developer