Review: Octomania (Nintendo Wii)

Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment
Release Date: 04/01/08

April Fools, indeed.

Octomania is a weird product; taken as the sum of its parts it’s a weird, quirky little puzzle game that’s generally tolerable but little more than that, but when one examines each of its component parts individually, it becomes an interesting example of everything that is wrong with, in no particular order, American localization of games, puzzle games, quirky Japanese games, voice acting in quirky Japanese games, the Wii online service, and the Wii in general. Now, to be fair, and we should really get this out of the way up front, Octomania is by no means a bad game, and this isn’t meant to be disparaging so to say; the problem essentially is that so many of the elements of the game are a comedy of errors on a base level that, if not for the fact that it’s technically competent and budget priced, it probably wouldn’t have anything going for it at all.

The basic storyline of Octomania, and yes there is one, works sort of like this: one day in Lonronpia, an apprentice mage named Kari, who is cute and spunky and sarcastic and everything else one would expect (and 10 years old, according to the game, despite the fact that she sounds thirty), attempts to summon her takoyaki, only to accidentally summon a hail of falling octopi. An apparently benevolent but lazy goddess appears before her and essentially says, “You screwed up the world, kid, so you need to go beat up a demon to fix it while I go take a nap”. This, of course, involves beating the crap out of a bunch of other people, as is expected, and hilarity ensues. The story, as it is, is generally thinner than Amy Winehouse, which would be fine (as this is the sort of game that’s based more on gameplay than story anyway), but for three problems. First, the characters are all either bizarre for no discernable reason (a Crab Samurai, a vain Kappa) or so stereotypical it’s painful (a Lahrl inspired demonic mama’s boy, a sarcastic wisecracking witch), and in a game where the characters are kind of important (as they ARE your avatars), that’s a major downer. Second, the entire premise of the game (you’re essentially getting rid of the falling multi-colored octopi by cooking them on grills and making them into takoyaki) is completely lost on anyone who doesn’t drown themselves in Japanese culture because, and I think it’s really important to note this, NO ONE IN AMERICA KNOWS WHAT THE FUCK TAKOYAKI IS. Okay? Unless you’ve played Lifesigns, Persona 3, or Cooking Mama, you’re going to literally be left with absolutely no idea what the idea is here, and even if you do know, this is a game based on the idea of making octopus dumplings, a food product that, to a horribly finicky Americanized eater such as myself, sounds only slightly less revolting than road kill and dog dropping puree, so imagine what this would sound like to a ten year old. Right. Which brings us neatly to the third problem: this game is immensely Japanese, and not in that “so bizarre it’s charming” way that Katamari Damacy was, but more in the “OH GOD I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON” way that Chulip was; the difference being that Chulip was so absolutely bizarre and obtuse that it managed to be endearing by sheer force of will, while Octomania is just abrasive and annoying.

Visually, Octomania is okay; the art style is mostly cute, and the graphics are generally of decent quality, but all of the various storyline cutscenes between battles are pure text-and-voice affairs with no animation to speak of, which seems kind of primitive. Aurally, the music is cute if not overly catchy, what effects exist are okay and thematically fit, and EVERYONE WHO VOICE-ACTED THIS GAME IS ABSOLUTELY ABOMINABLE AND THERE IS NO WAY TO TURN IT OFF OH MY GOD. Okay? This is, and I’m not even exaggerating, the most annoying, grating, offensively “I don’t even care about what the hell I’m reading I’m just here to collect a paycheck and pad my resume” voice acting I’ve heard in years, and each and every person involved in this production should BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES FOREVER.

So. Let’s talk gameplay, shall we?

The general gist of the gameplay is, well, kind of odd: essentially, octopi of various colors drop in from off-screen, and it’s your job to match them up on grills in the background of your play field by rotating them around with a little 2X2 square rotation pointer (you can choose which direction to rotate them in the options menu). Each grill has a number on it, which is how many of one color of octopi you need on the grill to start them cooking; when they’re cooking, you can chain other octopi of similar colors to them for bonus points (and to screw over your opponents). As you make chains, “urchins” are built up (think of them as the colorless blocks in Puzzle Fighter), and they drop on your opponents (or you if your opponents are chaining) to basically fill space. The urchins CAN be eliminated with chains, but they’re not too useful, as they don’t add points to your score or anything; they’re just meant to screw you over in all respects, really.

And for Arcade mode, that’s about it. Arcade mode is really only a hacked-down version of the real game, mind you, but “Original” mode adds some additional depth to the product. First, the diamond effects: fill up your diamond meter on the side of the screen by eliminating octopi to drop a diamond onto the board, which allows your characters to unleash a special attack on your opponent. This ranges from stopping time for your opponent to making all of the grills numbered with a 2 to turning all of the octopi on the opponent’s grills into urchins and so on. There are diamonds in Arcade mode, but all they do is turn all of the octopi on your board into one color, which is… basically instant death for your opponent, which is probably why that was changed in Original mode. There are also specialty colors for each character in Original mode, which basically means if you eliminate and chain octopi of your specialty color against your opponent, more urchins are dumped on their board; useful, but not horribly game-breaking.

In terms of variety, Arcade mode really only offers versus play and Kari’s Story Mode as play modes, but Original offers up a few more gameplay modes worth noting. Octopuzzle Mode works functionally like Story Mode in Arcade, only you can pick one of twelve characters to go through it (six by default, and six more who are locked). This also offers you the option of playing solo or in co-op (where you and a friend try to take on the CPU) against one or two opponents simultaneously. Octobattle Mode is essentially versus mode, with up to four players competing on two grills (player 3 on player 1’s grill, player 4 on player 2’s grill) to see who’s the best. And Endless Mode, well, lets you play solo or co-op Octobattle against no one until you lose. You can also play the game online, either with friends or just by searching for a random player (which is really a blessing, all things considered) if you want to get your grill on but you’re pulling the Macaulay Culkin.

Of course, it largely doubtful you will want to do this thing, as the actual gameplay in practice can best be described as “Bejweled crossed with Puzzle Fighter, only smashed with a brick”. The game has a daringly original CONCEPT but the execution is reminiscent of several other puzzle games that are generally more playable than this. You can choose to either have the Wii-mote act as a pointer or a controller to move the 2X2 rotation square around on-screen; while the controller option tends to be more usable, in either case the actual act of rotating octopi feels very slow, which becomes a problem later in the game when speed is key to not losing. Dumb luck seems to become more of a factor than any sort of skill; most decent puzzle games make the point to put skill and luck on equal footing, but here the pace accelerates to such a point that one literally feels the enjoyment being sucked out of the game as WITHIN MINUTES it starts moving at a pace that’s faster than the controls are capable of working with. And honestly, with a puzzle game, if your puzzle mechanic is “questionable”, that’s it; you have failed as a product.

On top of that, there’s not a whole lot of reason to come back to this, either; the Wii is populated with quirky novelty games, and Octomania is neither an exciting single player nor multi-player experience, largely because it’s the same game forever. Now, yes, most puzzle games are, but in this case, that’s not a good thing. Take a game like Tetris; it’s simple to learn and easy to get into. Now compare it to Octomania, which can overwhelm a learning player in minutes and plays awkwardly. Both games are functionally “the same thing forever”, but in the former case, that’s desirable, because the core product is enjoyable; in the latter case, the game is clunky and odd, which doesn’t help it much in the longevity department. And that’s really a problem; pretty much every puzzle game ever made lives and dies by its long-term appeal, and Octomania just doesn’t have that. The characters are absurd and uninteresting, the horrendous voices make each play session an earache waiting to happen, the core gameplay mechanics are similar to about a billion other titles only not implemented as well, there’s a dearth of variety, and the only, ONLY saving grace of the title is that it’s generally well-polished for a budget title, but just because someone polishes their ass doesn’t make the prospect of kissing it any more motivational, does it?

Now, if you’re a die-hard puzzle junkie and $20 isn’t a bad price, fine, okay, Octomania is an okay enough investment for you. But it doesn’t hold up well to, well, ANYTHING on the system. If you’re looking for a solid, enjoyable, budget-priced puzzle-oriented product to challenge you, Mercury Meltdown Revolution is RIGHT THERE. As a budget title, plenty of other budget games are available on the system that are more enjoyable; as a puzzle game, it’s awkward not terribly exciting; as a game for kids it’s not very appealing and features a plot point of OCTOPUS DUMPLINGS; as a Wii game it doesn’t work so well with the Wii mechanics and plays better if one uses the controller… as a normal controller; and as a product in general, it features ear-violating voices that cannot be turned off, and when one has to TOLERATE a voice to play a game, that’s not enjoyable. Octomania’s not exactly horrendous, but it’s not really worth buying either.

The Scores:
Story: POOR
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: POOR
Balance: POOR
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: POOR
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

Final Score: POOR.

Short Attention Span Summary:

Octomania is really something of an unnecessary game. Its budget price is attractive and the bright colorful visuals are cute, but the product is primitive, aurally offensive, confounding, and not likely to inspire long term replay. If you’re looking for a puzzle game on the Wii, there are better choices than Octomania.

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