ibb & obb

Do you know how long it’s been since I downloaded ibb & obb with the intent of reviewing it? 128 days. They even threw me a review code to pass out to a friend to test the online play. It’s not out of laziness that I haven’t gotten around to writing it up. It comes down to two things. First, the original build that released had some patchwork needed, and since my slate was full at the time, I let the developers fix it up before continuing further. And second, and certainly most importantly here: I couldn’t find a partner to play with, even after I handed out the code. Because apparently I have a bit of a temper about me and my partners didn’t appreciate being called idiots. Even my boyfriend. But, it’s not my fault. ibb & obb is a game designed to ruin relationships.

ibb & obb is a cooperative puzzle-platformer. Well, unless you’re talented enough to play solo by controlling Ibb with the left stick and Obb with the right stick. Freak. I don’t possess that talent, or any other coordination-based talent.  I can barely throw a robe on without breaking at least one bone in my body. Thus, I was forced to play with partners. The results were not pretty.

Do you know what I hate about the PS Store?  It often has either the trailer or pictures, but not both. In the case in Ibb and Obb, I had to swipe the pictures from Ibb and Obb's official site, which only had pics of the prototype.  Screw it.  Just look at the trailer below.

Do you know what I hate about the PS Store? It often has either the trailer or pictures, but not both. In the case in ibb & obb, I had to swipe the pictures from its official site, which only had pics of the prototype. Screw it. Just look at the trailer below.

Partner One: the Boyfriend

Our first attempt at playing ibb & obb came back in August. At first, we thought we would really dig the clever level design, which heavily stresses teamwork. Especially using each-other as platforms to reach higher plateaus. ibb & obb has a hard-on for that set-up. Of course, it also heavily leans on the “reverse-gravity, walk on the ceiling” school of platform design that I used to think was cute before I became Indie Gamer Chick. Since then, I’ve seen no less than twenty games attempt it, and it gets more annoying and unoriginal every time. Ibby Obby tries to at least mix it up by having the gravity stuff take place all over the map, often forcing you to use the gravity as a sort of springboard that you launch yourself to a higher platform with. And, for what it’s worth, Brian still thinks the level design is splendid. He just refuses to play with me. Because he doesn’t like being smacked in the head and called an imbecile when HE screws up jumps. I never screwed up jumps. Perfect jumping is one of my finer qualities, second only to my modesty.

ibb & obb demands utter perfection in the puzzlish jumps it presents you. There is nothing wrong with that kind of platform design, if the game’s controls are tight and responsive. ibb & obb does not possess those qualities. That, and that alone, kills it dead.  It’s just too damn frustrating how loose and slippery the controls are. Now, in the original build, the D-pad was completely unmapped, which meant you were stuck using the incredibly over-sensitive analog stick for all the movement. The patient team at Sparpweed Games, who I utterly respect the shit out of despite hating their game, promised they would use my early feedback. And they did. They added D-pad support, which made a world of difference, but the characters still slid a lot when moving and jumping. The looseness and imprecision of the controls was far and away the most challenging aspect of ibb & obb.

Even with the D-pad, we found it hard to line-up jumps, stack ourselves, or aim long-distance jumps without overshooting. If this had been a single-player game with only one character to worry about, I would have been frustrated to the point of meltdown. But ibb & obb is a cooperative game, which means you need precision of not just one, but two players. Both of whom need to play absolutely perfectly, especially in later stages. Every enemy is an instata-kill, and one player dying means both players have to start from the last checkpoint. Now granted, the checkpoints are very generously present, often immediately before each new “puzzle” in a stage. But when the loose controls result in puzzles that can take up to thirty minutes to clear, in part because coordinating two people to solve a puzzle is akin to learning a new dance from scratch, my frustration reached a level that I later learned is called “domestic violence.” Brian took it with good grace, because he’s that kind of guy (and also because I wear the pants in this relationship), but he’s not a regular gamer, or a puzzle person, or particularly smart. He also got sick of me saying he wasn’t particularly smart, then showed his intelligence by telling me to find someone else to play with.

The reverse gravity thing used to be novel. Now, it's almost a prerequisite if you want to make an indie platformer.

The reverse gravity thing used to be novel. Now, it’s almost a prerequisite if you want to make an indie platformer.

Partner Two: a friend I met through Indie Gamer Chick

A few weeks ago, I was bitching about the, ahem, quality of my partner on Twitter when a skilled platforming fan that I met through Indie Gamer Chick offered to play a bit with me. Mindful that I have difficulty communicating, we hooked up and attempted to play. This was a bit of a disaster, partially unrelated to the game itself.  I do have quirks related to my autism, one of which being I tend to talk over people during those times I can speak.  I try not to, but it’s tough. That annoyed him. He annoyed me by being non-stop sarcastic. Sarcasm is a tricky thing for me, because most of the time I’m incapable of recognizing it, even when it’s obvious. My brain processes information literally, like Drax only not as sexy. If I write sarcasm, I know my intent, but hearing it from others throws me off. And this dude could not grasp this concept. We got on each-others nerves.

Now thankfully, there is a communication-aid in the game that draws the pathway you’re trying to show by using the right analog stick. Sounds great, except even once you and the partner get done arguing over the solution, you still have to both be very precise with very imprecise controls. Again, the later levels leave little room for error, which meant both of us were screwing up. Like I did with Brian, we both laughed during the first few screw-ups. But once you’ve crossed a dozen between you (mostly via me, I admit), frustration and anger sets in. We did make progress, but the constant follies that were more on the shoddy controls than us were too much and we both agreed we weren’t having fun. And that if we had been sitting next to each-other with sharp objects, at least one of us would be dead.

Partner Three: The Business Partner, then his Kid

I don’t even remember what game it was, but last year my partner Christian dropped by my house to talk about something or another and we ended up playing a game I was reviewing for Indie Gamer Chick. We don’t exactly have the type of relationship outside of work where we just randomly game, so it was a cool bonding moment. Last week, Chris dropped by the house and I thought “hey, I should show him ibb & obb.” Chris had recently been playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii U with his son, age eight, so I figured I would show him an indie version of a platformer. It took me about ten seconds to realize he wouldn’t exactly be a premium playing partner. He literally couldn’t do such simple actions as jumping on top of me. So his kid Brent took over. An eight-year-old, mind you, who kept asking why the controls weren’t more Super Mario-like accurate. It made me wonder how high the ceiling for ibb & obb would have been if it had NSMB-levels of accuracy. Although Brent took direction relatively well, not to mention that ibb & obb sure looks like it would be aimed squarely at his age-range, it was too difficult for him. We then booted up Wii U and he proceeded to utterly humiliate me at Mario. Kid is going to be a pro someday.

Sorry guys, I had to make due with the pictures I had available. For what it's worth, the  whole game doesn't look like this.

Sorry guys, I had to make due with the pictures I had available. For what it’s worth, the whole game doesn’t look like this.

Partner Four: Daddy

So it’s come to this. By this point, I had tried ibb & obb multiple times with Brian, and a few times with various other people. I never really got over how loose and annoying the controls were. But, ibb & obb’s level design is undeniably clever. I get accused of quitting many games I play at IGC too early. Actually, often I quit and then while writing the review I go back and give it another shot, just because I don’t feel good about it otherwise. I try my best to be fair.  In that interest, I borrowed my father. Even he commented on how bland the game looked, and he was unaware that this had been a showcase title during Sony’s last Play event. Alas, my father is not a gamer. ibb & obb’s more challenging platform sections and loose controls require someone with experience, and my father is always the one holding everyone back when we play New Super Mario. He’s also probably reading this right now. Hi Daddy. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell anyone that you pronounce Mario “Merry-Oh.”

In conclusion, ibb & obb is a game that probably should have been a lot better than it turned out. I feel like Tim Russert, writing “CONTROL CONTROL CONTROL” on a marker-board, because that’s all that ibb & obb needed. The concept is as niche and indie as possible, and if you don’t have a partner, don’t bother even trying. But currently ibb & obb is free on PS+, and at that price, it’s probably worth looking at, just based on how good the intentions were here. A lot of thought was put into the puzzles, the level design, and the cooperative gimmick. But, I didn’t really like it. And maybe it’s not entirely on the controls. I love puzzle games, but puzzles to me are something I prefer to work out on my own. Portal is one of my all time favorite games, but even playing Portal 2’s coop with people who I genuinely love felt like I was having my space violated. And then you have the moments where ibb & obb is more about the platforming precision, almost like a punisher, where one or both players end up holding each-other back over multiple attempts. It’s not an experience that’s best shared, in my opinion. Little Big Planet kind of figured that out.  It’s not a game that, on its own, is especially difficult. But the more players you add, the greater the odds that someone is going to fuck up and force everyone to restart. Now imagine ramping the difficulty of level design on that up. It would be maddening. Combine that with the loosened controls, and any fun would have long been replaced by aggravation. ibb & obb has been critically popular (though I think the big-league critics give minimalistic indies a lot of leeway they otherwise wouldn’t), so maybe I’m in the minority here. Or maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had personally been more skilled at it. I mean, I get that a lot, where people determine that the only explanation for my dislike of a game is that I must suck at all games. It’s a bullshit theory. I love Spelunky about as much as anyone reasonably could, and if I were any worse at that game, I would be able to use it to qualify for disability.

ibbibb & obb was developed by Sparpweed Games

$7.99 with PS+ discount (at the time I purchased, currently free with PS+) thought the name sounded like something that would be seen on Nickelodeon in the making of this review.

A review copy of ibb & obb was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. The copy played by Cathy was paid for by her with her own money. The review copy was passed on to a friend to test online play. That player had no feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, check our FAQ.

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