I’m not a fan of spoilers myself and I can’t say I know anyone who enjoys them-hence the name being so negative–so this review will be as spoiler free as I can manage while also giving my opinion of the story as a whole. With that disclaimer out of the way, we can begin. Even the Ocean is a puzzle platformer by developer duo Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka in which you play a newly hired technician by the name of Aliph. In the course of just a few days, Aliph goes from newbie to hero, and in her quest to save the city she lives in, meets a giant, telepathic starfish, settles the silly squabbles of a young couple, buys her way into a ferry for emotions, and realizes that she’s not as important as she thinks she is… And that nothing she’s done has mattered. It’s a wild ride, and I enjoyed every moment up to the “aha!” moment during the conclusion.
From the very beginning, Aliph sets herself apart from other technicians by stripping off the bulky armour they wear to enter the power plants and from her discarded armour, she salvages a panel she uses as a shield. This single piece of equipment is used not only for blocking, but for wall jumping and zip lining, and provides a level of mobility that makes traversing the Metroidvania style “rooms” of the map easy breezy. You can even lock the shield in one direction by holding down x, sometimes literally covering your arse and protecting Aliph from projectiles. There’s some freedom of progression to choose which Power Plant you want to tackle first, but ultimately you must visit them all being the only technician with the good old fashioned work ethic to go the extra mile and get the job done. The majority of Even the Ocean’s action takes place in Power Plants and like structures and the gameplay loop is the same: Step one, get to the control room by passing through the puzzles in the previous rooms; step two, perform repairs, a series of tasks that require you to transport delicate parts to their proper receptacles; and step three, reroute power by playing a mini game where you adjust a series of mirrors to channel a beam of energy. It may sound like a lot, but Even the Ocean’s puzzles are straightforward and fairly easy, typically requiring you to go from point A to point B—sometimes with an object, but usually without one. There are no enemies to speak of, just you and the environment. The most challenging part of the game is maintaining your energy at a safe level; in this world, there are light and dark energies and if your balance shifts too far in either direction, it’s fatal. I’m sure there’s some sort of moral here.
Objects within the environment can shift your energy balance and they’re colour coordinated to indicate what they’ll affect—purple for dark energy and green for light energy. What’s more, having a concentration of light energy increases your vertical movement, i.e. your ability to jump, and a concentration of dark energy increases your horizontal movement, i.e. the speed at which you run. So there are advantages to having your energy bar filled more one way than the other, rather than straight down the middle, but the risk of sudden death becomes greater as a result. Fortunately, Even the Ocean has frequent save points that make it so that dying during a platforming section isn’t the end of the world. You’ll often find these little statues at the beginning of each room and then in between each section of the control room and simply running over them is enough to ensure the progress you made is not lost.
Even the Ocean does a great job of introducing additional platforming elements as the story progresses, keeping that core gameplay loop fresh from the first hour to the eighth. Things like colour coordinated bubbles that change the way you interact with the corresponding element (example: a green bubble will let you bounce off of lasers, rather than getting damaged); Water spouts that let you jump higher when used in conjunction with your shield; switches powered by your own light or dark energy that do a variety of things from opening doors to powering fans; panels that lock your shield orientation; angled lasers that can be deflected by your shield and off of mirrors to hit switches—and more. There’s a sense of delight when you navigate a well-designed series of obstacles, and there was never a moment when I was utterly uncertain of how to proceed, but rather moments when I had to adjust my timing or come from a different angle. In the late game, Even the Ocean takes everything you’ve learned and combines it into one, providing the greatest amount of challenge in those last couple of hours. Even then, the most difficulty I had was maintaining my energy levels as there were a couple of cheap shots designed to bowl over a gamer who wasn’t paying careful attention. On that note, you can also look around the screen and get a bearing to the room’s set up simply by hitting triangle, then panning the camera around, a feature I wish more puzzle platformers used.
Outside of the towns and power plants, Even the Ocean’s overworld is reminiscent of a 16bit RPG. I half expected to get dragged into a random encounter every time I was moving between locations, but this just isn’t that type of game. The OST is great, comprising wordless melodies that are well-suited to the locations. There’s no voice acting, though a speech sound is made while dialogue scrolls across the screen. The hand drawn art style is simple, but it gets the job done.
Even the Ocean has a very inclusive cast of LGBTQ+ characters and characters of colour, which at least to me, as someone who falls into both those categories, was significant. The female-heavy cast was a nice change, as well. Even the Ocean is strongest in terms of its story, which is revealed bit by bit as you travel to Power Plants and follow the orders you’re given. There are also side stories, if you care to speak to individuals found within the variety of locations, though these are completely optional. What begins as your typical tale of an average Jill-turned-saviour becomes something else entirely, and that niggling feeling that something else is going on here—you’re just not sure what—turns out to be correct. Even the Ocean’s story makes you consider your own place in the world and how much of an impact—a ripple, if you will—you create in the grand scheme of things. I can’t classify it as a happy story or a sad story, but rather one that needs to be told… Lest history inevitably repeats itself. With about an eight hour run time, depending on how quickly you read and solve puzzles, Even the Ocean doesn’t feel rushed, nor does it overstay its welcome. There are game modes for those who want to simply enjoy the story or those who only care about the action bits and even additional options to make things easier for those who struggle with these sorts of games. I’m a big fan of these menus because they open up Even the Ocean to a broader audience, which it certainly deserves.
While Even the Ocean won’t challenge those looking for a hardcore platformer, its strength in terms of atmosphere and story makes it a worthwhile addition to the libraries of those who want to sit back and enjoy the journey. There’s a definite joy in the way platforming elements work together to create a well-oiled means of conveyance, and management of your light and dark energies doesn’t feel like a chore. Additional options for speed running, add a bit of replay value, which is nice, and other game modes that focus more on the story or on the platforming sections means you can play Even the Ocean in the way you see fit.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Even the Ocean Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 6/10
User Review( votes)
Aliph’s rather rough first day on the job spirals into an adventure to save the world. Or does it?
- Controls well.
- Enough mechanics introduced over time to keep things fresh.
- LGBTQ+ friendly.
- Not much of a challenge until late game, making it feel somewhat unbalanced.
- Repetitive gameplay loop probably should have been switched up, if even a little, during late game due to changed circumstances.