Even the Ocean Opinion

Since it was Danielle’s GOTY, I decided to pick up Even the Ocean on the Steam Summer Sale. The idea of a “thoughtful, politically aware platformer” was appealing to me. I have not played this duo’s previous game Anodyne, so I had no real expectations going in.

I want to write a critique of this piece, because I think it’s interesting to reflect on what this game did right, what it could have done better, and where it tried to innovate.

I found the game to be very ambitious. It is a puzzle platformer in a competitive landscape; trying to deal with issues of queer identity, philosophy, and class disparity; while also having a quasi-open world to give a sense of scale to the whole journey. Throughout the game I kept feeling a sense of: “this is a neat idea that I wish was better executed upon”. The open world is a great example of this. The narrative is framed in a way to make the player want to care about these vast continents. However, the actual utility of these open spaces is simply to go from point a to b. There are occasionally npcs on the map, but they do not fill enough in to make the overworld map seem meaningful.

What kept me going throughout was the puzzle segments. The light-dark system was an interesting hook, and the puzzles were overall fun to solve.

However, it feels like most of the other components of the game fall apart. The core platforming mechanics feel very rough and unpolished, the size of objects in levels feels too large, the art, for the most part, feels as if it could have used another pass. I think most of the still frames look displeasing and awkward. The writing shifts in between being overly simple and lecturing the player on vague philosophical notions.

The entire impact of the story is supposed to be about the inability of humanity to prevent it’s own demise through selfishness of harnessing resources. It is essentially a “tragedy of the commons”. However, this is delivered in a very matter of fact attitude with very little depth to the writing. Most of the writing of the characters felt like they were supposed to be lecturing the player. The characters acted as if they were being very disruptive and displaying grand philosophic vision. The greatest embodiment of this problem was the character Humus who acts as a type of Socrates god character that has no opinions, only questioning notions that are made to seem more profound than they are.

I appreciate however that such a small team made such a large game. I am glad that they attempted at things that I think can definitely be improved upon in future iterations. While disappointed, I was very glad to see tough concepts being wrestled with in the narrative. I hope the creators are encouraged to build upon this in their next work. Due to the subject matter the team is tackling as well, it makes them more susceptible to criticism, because they are not just trying to make a fun game. They are trying to put a meaningful message forward.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts about the game. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend playing it, but it was definitely an interesting game.