[Review] OVIVO – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: IzHard
  • Publisher: Sometimes You
  • Release Date: 03/07/2019
  • Price: £6.29 / $6.99
  • Review code provided by: Sometimes You

I have always enjoyed movies where you don’t quite understand what is going on. I’m a huge fan of David Lynch, in particular his film Mulholland Drive. Anyone who has seen it will know that the story is pretty ambiguous. I came away from my first experience of the film with more questions than answers. I’m always on the lookout for games that give me a similar feeling.

You can imagine how I felt when I took a look at developer IzHard’s press release before starting OVIVO, which stated “OVO travels through the metaphoric world, overcomes various dangers and collects mysterious symbols. These symbols help you to unravel the story of this world but how you interpret it is completely up to you.” When I read this I thought I might have finally found a game that scratches that itch!

OVIVO is brought to you by IzHard, a small team from St Petersburg in Russia. They developed the initial concept for OVIVO as part of a game jam, before developing it into a more complete package which they presented as part of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in 2015. OVIVO went on to win the games category that year. It was then released on iOS, Steam and Android before being ported to Switch.

The level select screen – gorgeous!

Samsara

Distilled down to its purest form, OVIVO is a physics based puzzle platformer. You control the main character, OVO, who is essentially a small blob with an antenna. You move through the game worlds collecting orbs and symbols. This all sounds very familiar right? Where this game differentiates itself is in its art style and the mechanics through which you traverse the environments.

Each of the areas in the game starts as a stark black shape on a white background. You control OVO by moving left and right, rolling along the black shape suspended in space. A press of the A button then turns OVO completely white and causes it to flip upside down and merge into the black shape which makes up the environment. As this happens, gravity reverses and you can roll along the inside of the shape.

This mechanic is much harder to explain than it is to understand in practice. You control your character as you travel through each of the environments. The real magic begins when you start to realise that if you fall from a height, you can switch your polarity before OVO hits the ground, resulting in you going through the floor and continuing using your momentum. As you pass through the floor gravity instantly reverses and OVO slows down before accelerating back towards the “floor” (or should that be ceiling?). The closest comparison would be the sections in the Rightside Down Galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy 2, or the gravity flipping mechanics in VVVVVV.

Once you get the hang of OVIVO you enter a sort of flow state, where you are constantly falling and rising, taking advantage of strategically placed peaks and troughs to travel through levels in a manner not unlike a sine wave on an old oscilloscope. The gameplay develops as new mechanics are introduced such as flowers you can use to fly and repulsion fields, so it never gets stale. All these elements combine to make for some fiendish puzzles towards the end of the game.

Upon completion of a world, the game will zoom way out to show you the level through which you have just progressed. The sequence of blocks, channels and other more recognisable imagery is revealed to be part of a huge mural. These include an elaborately drawn tree, a cave and many other interesting motifs. It is fascinating to see how the level you have just passed through is part of a much larger artwork.

The game revolves around travelling through ten of these artworks, collecting items and attempting to make sense of the “story”. IzHard weren’t joking when they say that how you interpret the story is completely up to you.

There is no text in the game other than the developer and publisher’s names on the splash screen and the staff names in the credits. The story is instead interpreted by taking in the themes of the art in each of the worlds. I’m sure players will come away with different interpretations and some may even end up simply wondering “What was all that about?”.

Ouroboros

As I played through OVIVO I was constantly thinking about that press release and about the “metaphoric world” referred to.

The symbol of Ouroboros crops up throughout the game, with the loading screen consisting of a dragon or snake circling and eating its own tail. This same serpent can also be seen at points in the game and plays a part in the gameplay. This imagery and the concept of continually passing from the dark side to the light side during gameplay had me travelling down the Internet rabbit hole as I looked to understand this “metaphoric” world.

I don’t want to say too much about this, as players deserve to interpret the experience themselves. I read quite deeply into the symbology of Ouroboros and its links to the concept of Samsara – the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Samsara, which features in Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, feels closely linked with the second to second gameplay of OVIVO. I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Samsara and OVO’s cyclical movement from one plane of existence to another and back again.

Sensory overload

OVIVO is backed by a beautiful ambient soundtrack composed by Brokenkites. The tone of the music progresses as you make your way through the worlds, going from ethereal sounding tracks to gradually darker and more electronic influenced music. This fits in nicely with the changing visual tone, where the game progresses from art based on more organic elements to more industrial angular styled art.

There is a lot to take in here, but the game is actually very brief. I was able to play through the full game and gather all the collectibles within around 3 hours. The game doesn’t have a great deal of replayability, but it is absolutely worth experiencing. Those that stick with it to gather all the collectibles are treated to a hidden extra which is so well hidden that many might not notice it. Those who do might want to make sure they have a pen and paper handy to help them with this final obscure puzzle!

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed OVIVO. I found the graphics, sound and gameplay mechanics combined to provide a unique sensory experience. It also helps that the moment to moment gameplay is so satisfying! I found that the game finished quite abruptly and never truly fulfilled the promise outlined at the start of this review, but the journey to the end was something special!

Those that don’t have the patience to dig deeper into the themes presented will still find a smooth and satisfying gameplay loop and will no doubt enjoy the audiovisual treat that OVIVO provides!

Pros

  • An audiovisual feast
  • Head scratching environmental puzzles give a real sense of satisfaction
  • The physics based gameplay is super smooth

Cons

  • The game ends quite abruptly
  • Performance can occasionally be choppy
  • Very difficult to go backwards if you miss a collectible

Verdict

OVIVO provides a short but sweet physics based platformer which offers food for thought and an audiovisual treat.Those that want to dig a bit deeper will find hidden secrets and lots to love!

4/5

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