Platform(s): PC
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Release Date: Nov. 27, 2017


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PC Review - 'Ode'

by Cody Medellin on June 22, 2018 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Ode is an enchanting visual and musical journey through beautiful landscapes.

It is still interesting to see Ubisoft occasionally putting out experimental titles made on a smaller budget. Nowadays, indie game companies put out more niche titles and ideas while much larger studios go for the surefire blockbuster. Still, it's nice to see the French outfit that makes loads of Tom Clancy titles and almost annual incarnations of the Assassin's Creed series put out the likes of Grow Home and Child of Light. Ode is another one of those experimental titles that seems like it would've come from anyone other than the team originally responsible for the Driver series. Regardless, Ode ends up being just as good as the company's previous smaller efforts.

For those looking for a narrative, there isn't really one to speak of. You play the role of a star encased in an indestructible ball. Having fallen from the sky, you're trying to leave the planet to take your place among the stars once more. In order to do that, you need to return harmony to the world. It's a simple enough premise, but you get all this information from outside sources, since the game rarely bothers to provide any of this.

The mechanics are basic, but they work very well. You can roll around the environment and jump, but your leaps aren't very high. As you roam around the world, you can find spheres that follow your ball around at all times. You have the power to act like a magnet with these spheres, so that means you can either pull them all toward you or repel them. However, the repel is unfocused, so you can't aim your shots or control much in regards to repel strength. Beyond this, you encounter pools of liquid drenched in different colors, which give you some powers in conjunction with those spheres. This includes the ability to leap higher, grow large to walk over large chasms, and move in a tightly packed wheel.

All of these powers are used to activate the harmony back in these lands, and while just about every object you touch and encounter plays some type of musical note, the majority of the melodies are tucked away in large green blobs. Opening these blobs requires you to activate smaller green blobs and vines. Once the larger blobs are opened, part of the level's melody continuously plays while you go to another sections and repeat the process until you unlock a full symphony that takes on a few genres, including funk and ambient sounds.

The melodies are gorgeous, the kind of stuff you want to play loud or with headphones to really wrap yourself up in the experience. To that end, the game provides no other incidental music, nor does it have voice or even sound effects to accompany the music. That score is the key, and having the focus placed squarely on that is the right move.

Likewise, the graphics do little to detract from the experience. The alien environments allow for lots of organic life to be used, from colorful disks to large mushrooms to plants that look like they belong in the ocean instead of on land. Their colors are warming, and nothing here is grotesque, so it doesn't contrast with the melodies. With loads of particles and no slowdown, the game's gorgeous looks are only marred by a camera that misbehaves when you're near a wall.

Ode is really about enjoying the music you organically create, and to that end, the title doesn't do many things that you'd expect from a typical video game. For example, levels aren't timed, and there's no scoring system to worry about. Levels are completely devoid of enemies, and there's absolutely no way to die. For the most part, the game does a great job of explicitly telling you where to go, so getting lost is a rare occurrence. The scant few puzzles are quite easy to solve, so anyone with even a little bit of video game experience can come to grips with them without issue.

Thanks to the lax difficulty level, it doesn't take long to finish the game. This is especially true, since the game only has four levels to play through with no real variation available for those that want to replay those stages. The game tries to supplement this with a Christmas-themed level, where you have 90 seconds to collect as many spheres as you can, but that isn't really enough to hold anyone's interest beyond an initial playthrough.

Ode is one of those games where you may only play it once, but the experience sticks with you for some time. There's simply a sense of joy as you go through these levels and make music organically; you see the tunes start from humble beginnings before transforming into a full-blown melody that you can enjoy before trekking to the next stage. Ode looks and sounds beautiful, and although it can be finished very quickly, you'll be glad to have given this game a spin.

Score: 8.5/10

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