Thanks to Ratalaika Games for the review code
Title: Even the Ocean
Release Date: 08/17/2020
In this story driven puzzler, you take control of Aliph, who investigates the strangeness taking place at a ton of power plants in order to avenge the death of a coworker and solve the mystery of strange creatures roaming the land.
Interestingly, you can choose to play this game with only the story elements, going from plot point to plot point, or cut the story out entirely and play them stage by stage like a retro game, leading to some choice in how you want this experience to unfold.
Even the Ocean uses sprite art, and I do have to give a big highlight to the backgrounds in particular: during gameplay segments they may not seem too noteworthy, but during the story and town scenes, there are some backgrounds that are very eye-catching indeed, with gorgeous visual effects and excellent colors.
It’s a very clear sign a lot of effort and love went into this sprite art, and that’s something which I always can admire. The soundtrack is equally as impressive, starting off as seemingly generic sounding background songs… Before evolving into a really exotic, soothing assortment of fantastic songs, a bunch of which are definitely iPod worthy. This is definitely a highlight of the game, and one of the aspects that caught me off guard the most, complimenting the story scenes very well.
Even the Ocean is a puzzler, where the main mechanic comes from dealing with the forces of light and dark and learning to use a careful balance of the two in order to solve the puzzles. Due to the accident, Aliph ends up being able to take advantage of both forces to manipulate the environment.
Whether that involves a speed boost, being able to navigate safely through an electrical field, reflecting energy, or charging up unpowered doors, it’s up to you to guide through the power plants in order to restore things back to normal while continuing your investigation, using the power of polarity. Touching objects of a blue or purple color will move the meter forward in the respective way, and avoiding overcharging yourself with too much of one energy source is the key to survival in this game, along with using the effects of a certain polarity to solve puzzles and deal with things such as currents, geysers and lasers, among many, many other things.
Generally, the controls are pretty good, with a handy shield being used to manipulate and reflect things as needed in the Power Plant segments. This will be your go-to for these areas, and learning how to use the shield to platform and navigate the plants is vital to success. Thus, each power plant and the routes to them are the main stages in this game, and each has a plentiful amount of puzzles to solve.
Outside of these stages, you have an overworld to traverse, which takes place from a top-down perspective not unlike a mode 7 SNES RPG. It’s a pretty straightforward map with some leeway to discover locations off the beaten path, though you can’t go to them out of order in normal story progression. The odd part that tripped me up at first is that in order to actually enter a spot you see on the map, you have to hold the X button down and inspect the area, which *then* lets you enter it properly. Why you can’t just press it once instead of having to hold it down, I don’t honestly get, but it still is a fun way to bridge the two segments of the game.
Once your exploration in the overworld is done, you’ll return to the main hub city, where the story will progress and you’ll be able to talk to NPCs and explore around town using the rail. There isn’t too much to do here besides doing what you need to do in order to progress the plot, or practicing for the puzzles ahead, but it does help keep the divide between the two styles and progress the plot. Pretty much rinse and repeat as you open your way to new power plants, new parts of the overworld, and new parts of the town as you uncover the dark secrets.
That would be the end of it normally, with a puzzle/VN hybrid that doesn’t seem to have anything extra to note besides a good story that takes a while to get going, and a few smart puzzles. Yet Even the Ocean gets some major props from me due to a surprising feature set of accessibility options that make this game crazy customizable to a player’s liking: You can turn on features such as making yourself invincible, reducing damage, being able to walk around vertically without the need to jump, or even being allowed to outright skip rooms that give you trouble, with no penalty. You can customize this at will anytime from the menu, and it works brilliantly. You can even turn on speedrun-focused options to blaze through mandatory story text, if you so desire.
Considering how rare it is for games in general to even allow basic customization options for visual effects and whatnot, it blew me away to see so many options here, either to speed up a playthrough, make things easier, or just a mix and match of both. This, combined with the aforementioned gauntlet/story mode options, makes Even the Ocean a puzzler that’s very inviting, which does a lot to make this a good game that anyone can come to enjoy, regardless of skill, and that has to be commended.
In the end, Even the Ocean is a game I can commend for the sheer amount of accessibility options and being able to configure the game to pretty much any playstyle you like: whether you’re a reader, a player, a puzzler, a speedrunner, this game has the options to help make things a breeze, which is something I honestly wish more games in general would do.
It’s just a shame that the story in Even the Ocean didn’t grip me much until the midway point of the adventure, leaving me to stick to the gameplay-only mode for the sake of seeing more puzzles, which ended up feeling dull after a while, despite some clever concepts. Still, while the story might not make this a must-play by any means, and the puzzles are just OK, blended together, they can still be very enjoyable due to the accessibility options and if an available playstyle appeals to you for this game, then I definitely think Even the Ocean is an adventure worth giving a go, especially for the amazing soundtrack!
I give Even the Ocean a 6 out of 10.