Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment
Developer: Compile Heart
Release Date: March 25, 2008
Every once in a great while, a game comes along with such nuance and finesse, such a splendid and fascinating way of telling a story, that gamers young and old get drawn into the world that has been created for them. Players are drawn to the edges of their seats as they anxiously await the next development in the highly characterized game world, the true mark of literary genius that seems to call to us to reach through the screen and become embroiled in the intrigue and personality clashes that flesh out the vibrant scenes that beckon to us.
Octomania is not that game.
Welcome to the world of Octomania. The main character is Kari, an apprentice magician who has an unhealthy obsession with fried octopus (which explains why she's only seen in something resembling a poorly constructed nightgown). She casts a magical spell to save herself the effort of going to get more fried octopus, and instead, octopi inexplicably begin raining down from the heavens. This prompts her to go on a rather protracted quest to rid the land of the nuisance she unwittingly created, pitting her against such bizarre foes as a lazy angel, a wannabe samurai crab, a pig-faced goblin with an obsession for disinfectant, an afro-wearing tree that raps, and a yellow blob from another world who is a voyaging chef.
I'm not making this up. This game is so Japanese that it can be seen voting for a prime minister while eating sushi and watching "Ninja Warrior" before its cosplay competition, where it intends to dress up as an incredibly obscure character. The voice acting ranges from barely tolerable to fingernails-on-chalkboard bad, and not a single iota of the "plot" makes even the tiniest bit of sense. Despite all of the bizarre quirks, even the ones that make it a painful spectacle, I like Octomania.
Despite its flaws making the game feel very much like that nice comfortable bed you roll into that has a sharp nail sticking out on one side, Octomania is actually a fairly well-done game. The gameplay is simple enough to figure out but challenging enough to keep you playing well into the night (I actually played for four hours the first time I picked up the controller), the soundtracks to the various levels are simple and appealing without coming off as underdone, and the ability to change the control method is an incredibly welcome feature that more game producers should be implementing.
Pointing with the Wiimote and using it as a point-and-click device was agonizingly difficult in a puzzle title like this, enough that it made me wonder why it was even included as the default in the first place, but switching to a sideways grip solved every control problem that I had and allowed me to focus more on the puzzle element than trying to get the game to do what I wanted it to do. Bravo, Compile Heart, for having the foresight and wisdom to include a control mechanic that doesn't involve frantic gesturing and rampant profanity.
Gameplay is relatively simple. Scattered over your grid are various 3x3 squares, with a number occupying the center square. Put the appropriate number of octopi of the same color onto any of the spots on that square, and it's cleared away. Chain together more octopi to clear more at a time and drop urchins onto your opponent's board; urchins can only be cleared away by clearing the octopi next to them. Outlast and/or defeat your opponent, and progress to the next stage.
Your cursor is a 2x2 square, and any octopi in that square can be rotated either clockwise or counter-clockwise to move it around the grid or switch its position. It's really a very easy game to pick up, and even novice gamers will be eliminating octopi and passing the preliminary stages in no time at all, but the skill it takes to plan your moves ahead of time — and I assure you, you will need to plan your moves ahead of time — rewards the experienced and thoughtful gamer.
The addition of multiple modes definitely serves to add depth to Octomania. Sure, you can play through the arcade mode and suffer the aneurism-inducing story line, but perhaps you'd prefer Original mode, where you can team up with a second player and even do two-on-two battles? Or maybe you'd just rather go with Non-Stop mode, where you simply play until you just can't play anymore. Even the different power-ups have different effects in the various modes, adding new and interesting surprises to the gameplay and challenges to which the player can adapt. A puzzle title almost always benefits from different ways to play the game, and Octomania is no different. You can even get some decent online gaming going, though it can be a bit difficult to find someone who actually shelled out the $20 for this one; Octomania is a good find, but it's a sleeper hit if ever there was one.
Ultimately, Octomania comes off as a shining example of what a puzzle title can do despite being burdened with cultural barriers a mile wide and irritating characters. Keep your eyes on the playing field, click past the inane dialogue, and you can have a very good time with this interesting and challenging game. Best of all, this one is squarely in the $20 bin, so you can pick up a fun time-passer for relatively little cash. It's not a work of art, but you could do a lot worse.