I am not a religious person, or even an especially spiritual one, but I’ve often felt a deep connection to music that I feel comes close. There have been moments in my life where an album, a verse or even a single melody has struck a profound chord with me and helped shape who I am as a person. Knowing that music plays such an important role in my outlook on life, I was very intrigued by sound-surfing ‘platformer’ Onde from Lance and 3-50, which promises a surreal journey where music plays a huge factor.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Awesome ‘out of this world’ visuals|
+ Evocative music that ‘describes’ the gameplay
+ Great atmosphere created throughout
|Negatives||– Limited hands-on gameplay|
– Abstract style won’t appeal to everyone
– Slow repetition of sections if you make a mistake
|Price (When Reviewed)||£10.99|
|Our Playtime||4 hours|
Let me preface everything I’m about to write by saying that Onde is not your typical videogame, and as such, is difficult to review in a sense that’s comparable to other titles. While this might sound a tad eye-rolling, having finished Onde, I actually consider it more of an experience than a game, and that makes scoring it as I would another game off the shelf a little tricky. I’d describe Onde as a musical traversal title with some puzzle/platform elements sprinkled in, but one that mostly asks that you sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the world that Lance and 3-50 have created for you.
Onde, which means “wave” in French, is a very abstract affair that immerses you in a surreal, living world and manages to tell a story without ever really delivering any plot. You awaken as a small, seemingly ethereal being, freshly hatched off the limb of a great tree that’s standing in the darkness. You’re a conceptual creature that resembles four overlapping concentric circles with jelly-fish-like tentacles that trail behind you as you move. You’re brought to life by four smaller creatures that swoop around and seem to want to lead you somewhere; eventually they latch onto you -each one settling inside a different circle of your ‘body’- and then your journey begins.
It’s not long before you’re introduced to the game’s core gameplay mechanic, which is that you must ride on waves of sound to navigate the strange and shifting landscapes. The small jellyfish-like creatures that awakened you can detach themselves from your body and latch on to small stalks dotted around the environment; by pushing the corresponding button on your controller, you can then ‘ring’ them like a bell, causing a soundwave to ripple out and carry you out with it. Each soundwave has a limited lifespan, so you need to glide around its edge and settle on another surface before it peters out and leaves you stranded in no man’s land.
While traversing the world sounds simple enough, there are some nuances that mean you need to use your head when surfing from one ring to the next. There are waves of differing colours, and each one behaves in a different way and offers alternative ways to get around. The white waves are the most common and allow you to simply ride them as they radiate outwards until they disappear. Turquoise waves stop expanding when you touch them, allowing you to navigate along their circumference at your own pace before latching onto any other waves that cross your path. And finally there’s the pink waves; these pull you back into their source and can even be used to catapult you through space, assuming you have the required accuracy.
As you’re unable to survive without the energy of a wave to sustain you, drifting through open space for more than a few seconds causes you to dissipate and respawn on the surface of the stable point that you touched. This means that you need to plan your moves carefully to ensure you always have a wave to latch on to, requiring good spatial awareness and timing, lest you miss your destination and respawn a few tricky minutes back. WIth such a sedate pace to the gameplay, this replaying chunks of traversal because of a single mistimed button press was annoying, and stood out as my lone complaint about Onde from a gameplay perspective.
The soundwaves that you create actually make up part of the game’s music, which stands out as fantastic from start to finish. Onde delivers a soothing synth score that radiates with serenity, twinkles with otherworldly mystery and, at times, trembles with dark threats. Your journey through the surreal netherscapes is reflected by (or driven by – it’s hard to tell), the musical score much more explicitly than in other games. Playing through Onde reminded me of watching Disney’s Fantasia for the first time – the visuals are the music and the sounds are the images – they’re so tightly interwoven that they become completely synonymous. The soundtrack acts as an underpinning piece of the environmental storytelling in Onde, and the entire premise would be a complete flop without such evocative and mesmerising music to accompany what you see on the screen.
And make no mistake, what you see on the screen is equally as impressive as the sounds that narrate the game. The world of Onde is delivered in bright, impressive colours and is burgeoning with ethereal imagery that is thought-provoking throughout. From your inception among the branches of an enormous tree, you’ll drift your way through a series of unique locales that flow beautifully into one another. You’ll explore crystalline rock formations and glacial caves, deep underwater recesses and even the vast reaches of space on your way ‘home’. Sometimes psychedelic and vibrant, sometimes stark and foreboding, Onde’s visuals take you on an exuberant odyssey that borders on the spiritual.
As such, it’s not always clear what you need to do in Onde, but drifting through the ether and looking for your next destination is part of what makes the experience so enjoyable. There’s a whimsical sense of exploration running through the game, punctuated with moments of enigma that require some lateral thinking to overcome. Whether it’s riding alternating waves to zig-zag to your way to your destination, or combining frozen and expanding rings to reach your goal, there’s moments of puzzling that are definitely entertaining in their own right. Such is the simplicity of the mechanics, it would be hard to call the hands-on gameplay of Onde compelling, but as I explained at the start of the review, I wouldn’t describe this as a game in the traditional sense, and Onde certainly asks enough of the player to keep you engaged with the premise all the way through.
Some of my favourite moments are the escape scenes, where otherworldly enemies reach out to ensnare you – the screen becomes filled with angry red tones and inky black shadows, and the music takes on the up tempo intensity of pursuit. It’s in such stark contrast to the rest of the zen-like experience that it makes an incredible impression as you hastily navigate your way out of harms way.
Sadly, my effusive praise of Onde comes with the slight asterisk that this won’t be a game that appeals to everyone. From conception to completion, Onde is an artistic endeavour that relies on the player making an emotional connection to the visual and aural themes, and I dare say that there’s a lot of more practical folk who just won’t ‘get it’. I offer this opinion in no way to detract from the game, but to offer fair warning to players who might be expecting a more ‘gameplay oriented’ experience filled with tricky platform/puzzling.
A charming experience from start to finish, Onde is an odyssey through the abstract mysteries of the world that’s described with evocative imagery and thought-provoking music. The score and visuals beautifully align to tell a story without a single word being uttered, and it’s a credit to the developers at how immersive the experience is. The artistic nature of the game and its limited gameplay mechanics will not appeal to everyone, but that’s okay. I may not know art, but I know what I like, and I certainly liked Onde.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.