Is Onde on de list for the best looking games of the year?
Onde is a very hard game to describe. Part puzzle platformer but without the platforms, part rhythm game but without you affecting the rhythm, and part acid trip but without the drug addiction. It’s a lot of things, yet still something very simple. Whatever it is, Onde is absolutely the most visually beautiful game I’ve played in a very long time.
If you’ve come across my reviews — or ramblings, if you like — before, then you may know that I tend to write about visuals and sound towards the end. But Onde refuses to allow that by being utterly stunning to look at and listen to. The sheer amount of fascinating shapes and colours that will appear ahead of you during your journey is amazing. Over the course of your three-or-so hours with the game, you’ll visit underwater worlds, lands in the sky, and a black hole in space, and not once do you feel as though you’ve seen this before. Every area is utterly unique, with different creatures, visual effects, sounds, and mechanics, whilst still managing to maintain a cohesive world and its simple play style. From an artistic standpoint, Onde is an absolute triumph.
The music, too, is a delight, being used to enhance the atmosphere of your current environment, and the pace through which you’re exploring it. Deep, dangerous soundscapes accompany your claustrophobic travels through cave systems, whilst victorious tones will announce you bursting out of the depths into glorious sunshine.
With that said, how does Onde actually play? You begin as some sort of microscopic creature in what I assume is an underwater world. It doesn’t feel like there’s a clear story here beyond your creature’s desire to explore and experience the world. Once you are free to move around, you’ll find that you can only progress by moving around white circles, and that pretty much everything else will kill you. Before long you gain access to the ability to create expanding or contracting circles in specific places, and this is how you’ll progress throughout the game. The only input you have is activating a circle, or moving around one. It’s incredibly simple, but used very effectively throughout.
Early puzzles will just have you time when a circle will grow to allow you to move forward. Before long though, you’ll need to catapult yourself across areas by using rapidly contracting circles and then time one growing to catch you. There are frequent new mechanics brought in to keep things fresh, and even a boss battle of sorts. It’s very impressive how much has been done with such a simple concept.
At times, it can be a little challenging, and you can fail. If you spend too long separated from a safe place, or if you run into a black circle or object, you’ll be sent back to the most recent safe circle you were at. For the most part, this is fine, but on more than a few occasions I found this a little frustrating. Sometimes you’ll progress into an unknown area, and if you’re in the wrong spot on your current circle, you won’t be able to safely reach the next one and will be sent back.
This felt a little unfair, and during some faster paced moments, it wasn’t always clear where I was meant to go to get things right. I have no problem with failing and trying again, but
when I needed to replay the same two minutes in the exact same way to have another go I became a touch annoyed, especially when some areas require some quite precise positioning. For such a beautiful game that defines itself as being a rather zen experience, this sort of thing feels a little out of place.
But then you get to another beautiful scene with wonderfully upbeat music, and it all feels like so much fun again. People say graphics and sounds aren’t the core part of a video game, but here they absolutely are, and I couldn’t imagine Onde working nearly as well without them. The visual and auditory treat available here will push you through those occasionally irritating difficulty spikes just to see where you end up next. The linearity feels like a missed opportunity, as having a little more freedom to explore what the world has to offer, or hidden areas with different creatures or routes through the game would have been a neat addition. But as it stands, Onde is an excellent and rather unique puzzle game with a visual style that you won’t find elsewhere.
Onde is available now on PC via Steam and GOG.