Super cute is not the same as super fun. I know this now.
It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by Ibb & Obb’s superficial charms. At first glance, you’d think the game was an innocuous fantasy land filled with brightly colored cuteness and fun physics-based puzzles for you and a friend to high-five your ways through. I was just like you once, so naïve. Alas, Ibb & Obb manages to look precious while hiding a lot of dark pain that can, at times, fail to be fun for anyone.
The core of Sparpweed’s devilish game is its cooperative gameplay. Each level is divided by a harsh line that represents the ground no matter which side of it you land on. Above it, movement is routine, but below, both Ibb and Obb are flipped upside-down, utilizing occasional gravity gates to switch orientation. In order to surmount the majority of the puzzles, the two... things must use each other as platforms to propel each other onto ledges or through gates to accomplish daredevil jumps.
Unlike the peaceful co-op antics of Journey, there are enemies here which need to be defeated. They present themselves as black creatures on one side of the dividing line and white masses on the other. Treading on the black side leads to death for both characters (unlike, say, losing an Ice Climber in Super Smash Bros.), but touching a single pixel of the white mass defeats the other side and yields crystals to collect. Eventually, enemy patterns are combined with platform puzzles to create sinister challenges.
Although co-op is at the heart of Ibb & Obb’s design, one does have the ability to go it alone by controlling Ibb and Obb with each thumbstick, relegating jumping to pushing up on either stick instead of hitting a button. This, in and of itself, wasn’t such a terrible challenge until later levels where I inevitably felt the developer’s middle finger being raised at me. Attempting to control both characters simultaneously to perform two different tasks eventually became such an exercise in futility that I refused to progress further without a friend at the ready. Those who do manage to complete single-player mode deserve actual physical trophies delivered to their doorsteps, not just those on Playstation Network.
Ibb & Obb supports anonymous pairing with another player on PSN (also like Journey). Without voice chat, in order to communicate, the right thumbstick can be used to draw a long line of green or pink-colored pixie dust. The idea is rather novel and is good for communicating direction or intended pathways, but because the line always begins at your character and is in your color, it’s not good at saying, “Why don’t you try it first?” or “Jump on my head. I’m not just pooping pixels on myself for no reason.” The game is most successful when you invite a friend or in local co-op where these communication lines can work in tandem with actual speaking and pointing to the screen.
It is also in local co-op that the most frustrating parts of the game become slightly fun if only because you have someone close to suffer with you. Thumb and brain dexterity notwithstanding, the game introduces unpredictable elements that prevent the possibility of surefire paths to success like you’d find in Portal or Super Meat Boy. Enemies that bounce towards whichever player is closer and bubbles which provide obscure floating properties before they pop are among such nuisances you are forced to pass on the way to the goal. Soon enough, tiny, single character-wide platforms that require precise timing emerge, which when combined with imperfect, floaty jumping controls make you want to suss out every curse your vocabulary can muster. Moreover, the game only auto-saves at level completion; if your friend has to go to sleep for work the next day, you can easily lose an hour's worth of effort.
Despite the fact that almost everything but the hills has eyes, Ibb & Obb does not feature a narrative, abstract or otherwise. The allure of the precious graphics and the procedurally generated electronic background music becomes lackluster when you realize it is all for naught. Ibb and Obb do not advance beyond their little blob selves, and collecting the crystals is only worthwhile for earning trophies. My partner and I completed a puzzle plagued with precision problems, and he stared at the screen, blankly uttering, “I feel remarkably empty.” Yeah...
Ibb & Obb won’t be appealing to everyone. Unlike a game like Fez, another charming-looking game which is essentially easy to beat but hard to complete, Sparpweed’s game puts all the challenge in the forefront. It’s a polarizing experience that only dedicated puzzle platform lovers might enjoy. Frankly, you’d be better off with a game that values and rewards your time more explicitly, such as any of the other games I’ve mentioned in this review.