I’m sure Ovivo’s control scheme was the easiest to understand out of anything I played at PAX East this year. An on-screen analog stick to move left or right in 2D space, a tap to perform an action… and that’s about all you need to get started! And yet, as is often the case with deceptively cunning independent developers, Ovivo yields layers of depth, charm, and thoughtful personality the more time you spend with it. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so simultaneously relaxed and addicted in the middle of an enormous expo hall, yet Ovivo managed to make my surroundings melt away.
The game’s style is highly distinctive, and consists of vector art in stark contrast with itself—swaths of inky black and strokes of bright white. Its primary gameplay ruse is one of shifting your means of traversal between the two. Beginning a level has you rolling your little acorn along the black surface and a quick tap reverses gravity and shifts you “underground,” now pressed against the white surface.
Essentially the ground becomes the sky, and you’re turned upside-down. It’s amusing looking back at how disorienting this was, but Ovivo has a genuinely unique gameplay system, and one with the legs to support about half a dozen levels (for this demo, anyway) without resorting to too much repetition.
With the controls committed to memory, I made a fun discovery: You can pre-register your phase shift by tapping while airborne, before actually coming in contact with a black or white surface. What this means is that you can bungie yourself up and down in a way not terribly dissimilar to something like Tiny Wings, achieving substantial airtime and clearing obstacles and gaps that would not be otherwise surmountable.
I was told by IzHard designer and animator Daria Kruzhinskaya that Ovivo’s stages are linear, but she surely only meant so in a literal sense; traversal itself feels so freeing that you’d be hard pressed to liken any of Ovivo’s stages to forced pathways or rails. Yes, you do follow a general direction, and can “fall off” of a stage when gravity sends you hurtling toward infinity, but for me discovering unique solutions and oddball means of reaching an out-of-reach point was half the fun.
Each stage contains checkpoints and collectibles, both of which felt reasonably placed, but what began to stand out as I overstayed my welcome at the Ovivo booth was the detail and care that’s clearly been invested in the visual design. With each stage, a new optical element is introduced, be it wavy tendrils, leaves, tree roots, and general verdure, or geometric eccentricities with no real purpose other than to look pleasant or differentiate one stage from another.
The wonderful thing about Ovivo’s core design is that visual fancies do by default become gameplay; the aforementioned oddities, after a phase shift, can actually be “entered” and traversed, regardless of whether or not there’s a reward or related progress attached. Larger artistic plays reveal themselves as well, such as one environment that portrays a large, presumably human hand reaching for that of another. Ovivo isn’t exactly Michelangelo, but I was tickled by its style and simple flair all the same.
The team of three at IzHard created Ovivo as part of a Microsoft sponsored hack-a-thon, and the fortress of Windows and Xbox is part of the reason they’re being featured with their very own booth at PAX East. Not only are successes-in-progress such as this inspiring, but Ovivo specifically marks the second time I’ve come in contact with an awesome indie effort at PAX that Microsoft had thrown its weight behind.
There’s no time to wax poetic here about the merits of corporate giants bolstering the independent game dev community, but at the very least I propose an appreciative golf clap or nod of approval to the folks behind ImagineCup at Microsoft. It would seem the spirit of independent development, creative ingenuity, and even Penny Arcade itself are alive and well at the oft-criticized company. This can only be seen as a positive.
Ovivo was shown at PAX on PC and iPhone, with a release date slated (by my understanding) for sometime in 2016. There are also plans for Xbox, Mac, and Android versions, so you don’t have to worry about finding a way to get your hands on it. Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack is incredibly soothing? I’m not sure if there’s a section in the App Store for “bedtime gaming,” but if there is, then surely Ovivo would make a nice home for itself there.