Have you ever taken a moment to appreciate the level of thought and process that go into the most ridiculously simple games? In all seriousness, coding, design and debugging are things that the average player doesn’t consider, simply because it’s beyond their scope of care. When I eat a delicious dinner, I don’t think about the time and techniques and effort that created my meal, I’m almost binarily deciding if it’s good or bad. Now, as players and critics, we aren’t inherently tasked or asked to think about these things, because almost 15 years to make a bad game still makes a bad game. But it is pretty cool for a game to go above and beyond technical creativity to execute an ultimately simple process, and that’s what we’re looking at, here, with Otto.
Otto is a physics puzzle game with the titular star being a cute, slightly chubby hamster. For whatever reason, Otto is stuck on a platform that’s been suspended by two ropes. Using pulleys and timing, you need to guide Otto back to his tiny hole that should lead back to his hamster cage. Along the way, there are also three sunflower seeds (Otto’s favorite!) that you should try to angle to grab before exiting the level. Also, the levels get increasingly more difficult, starting with a lot of open space and evolving into spiked balls, moving platforms and generally dangerous stuff strewn about that prevent Otto from making the trip in one piece. Don’t worry, this is very E for Everyone, and there’s no gore or otherwise violent moments for Otto. He simply gets a bump on the head and needs to restart the level. High scores come from successfully getting all the seeds and finishing in record time. Good luck!
Rather than just make things lazy and obvious with joystick controls, 34BigThings, the publishing arm behind this game, made a point to look at the Switch and its capabilities and work within those parameters. The end result is actually using motion control and the gyroscopes to assign real pulley actions to each of the two Joycons. In fact, this game is a.) impossible to play without Joycons and b.) a nightmare if you don’t have a table handy. This is because you need to legitimately calibrate the Joycons in order to get the proper balance, and choosing to not do so leaves you wildly (and I mean WILDLY) out of control. It’s not just push and pull actions with the controllers: it’s actually getting your footing in virtual space, holding down the shoulder buttons when you’re ready, and figuring out the right amount of torque needed to generate results. Pull too slowly and the game will barely register your movement, and Otto will just sit there, politely incredulous at your ineptitude. Pull too hard and you jerk things all over the place, often times overcompensating and slamming into walls or into the floor. Otto cannot and will not fall off the platform, so don’t worry about that: worry about the damn game.
Otto has some really good points. For one, this is a great use of puzzle physics with the Nintendo Switch. There have been some okay physics puzzlers, but none of them really felt unique to this console, and some were just quick and dirty ports of other games. However simple it may appear, Otto is built for the Switch, and, mostly, executed well. With a good amount of HD rumble behind the movements, it’s clear the consideration went into making the game experience special and tailored for Nintendo fans.
Additionally, Otto is surprisingly complex in execution and ideals. Sure, there are 90 levels, but you can make 90 levels of anything with copy and paste mechanics. Otto actually has a lot to say and do in terms of level changes and atmospheric differences, including, surprisingly, boss fights, in which you have to be fast and accurate to fake out incoming dangers. Pulling cues from things like The Incredible Machine, there are traps that affect the world around you without directly interfering with your hamster, like gusts of wind from hair dryers or cannons that only shoot occasionally, when you least expect it. The end result is that you actually have quite a bit of variety and fast thinking, keeping the game from getting boring. The cute mascot doesn’t hurt either, but I know that won’t sell it for everyone.
Sadly, the controls just simply aren’t as precise as I’d like them to be, and you do end up with several instances in Otto of being flat-out frustrated. Once or twice I even got stuck, accidentally pulling the Joycons in such a way that the rope got hitched on the pulley with no chance for loosening it. It’s simple enough to undo and to reset a level, but what if that happened in later stages when I had finally figured out the safest path to get all seeds and get home? You try not to push and pull too hard, but there are moments when the Joycons are just unresponsive, leaving you to move your hand slowly through the air like you’re milking a bored, invisible cow. While adults will have little problem correcting and understanding the issue, this game is going to appeal mostly to kids, and they won’t necessarily get the reason why their commands are being ignored. Be sure to put on the Joycon straps, because the likelihood of anger tossing becomes pretty high once the levels get to double digits.
But here’s the deal: we all want something new and interesting and, yes, exclusive for our Nintendo Switch. Whether it’s GOTY or not isn’t on the table, but I would argue Otto meets the other three criteria. I certainly took notice, I had a lot of fun, and I doubt I’d see this game on another console or platform. It’s like Cut the Rope with lower animation but more complicated involvement. It’s got replay value, it takes very little effort to learn, and it could take a ton to master. I’d say, if you’re looking for a game for the summertime, Otto could be a great one for your household. Either your kids are learning physics on the sly and you can cackle with educational glee, or they give up and go outside to play after the second time of screaming at the hamster on the screen. As a parent, I’d chock either up for a win, and then I’d try to move the damn hamster myself.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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