OMNO by Jonas Manke
I’m trudging dutifully through this swampy briar patch, my tattered and dirty ham hock underarm, when finally I reach a clearing, emerging into an open field: my destination. I sigh with relief, tired from the thorny debacle I have just endured, and find the hungry family awaiting me: my objective. I offer them the ham hock with no real sense of accomplishment – this is not my first family or ham hock – and they take it gratefully.
As they dine, I see another identical murky briar patch and know exactly what lies ahead. I sigh at the thought of doing the exact same thing once more. As has been the pattern, the hungry family at my feet now hands me a fresh ham hock. I take it and still don’t ask why they didn’t just eat this one instead of waiting for me, like all the other families, and set off on my way towards the new and yet very familiar briars. I pause at the edge before entering. Another sigh. Who in God’s name is this cycle of dissatisfaction benefitting?
This preamble is my humble effort to illuminate the feelings surrounding my experience playing OMNO.
OMNO is a Kickstarted 3D puzzle game produced by one man (a.k.a. Studio Inkyfox) with no combat, set in a fantastical – though hardly fantastic – world. It is visually appealing in a generic sort of way with a soundtrack that screams, “RELAX, THIS IS SPIRITUAL!” It reminded me of Hob with all the grassy rocks (in fairness, there’s a lot of rocky grass to be found as well); Journey, with its existential overtones but minus the heft; and maybe a little No Man’s Sky for good measure, with its collection of funky, colorful alien beasts, some the size of dinosaurs.
With no narrative at all and precisely zero entities to interact with – the animals are all cute and offer energy crystals on request but are disappointingly not part of the game beyond that – the OMNOverse lore, if I may be so bold, stems from floating cubes dotted about the environment that, for a game that talks about light a lot, ironically shines no light on anything. The writing, unfortunately, is so sincere and aimless that I felt I developed dyslexia in real-time every time I tried to read any of it. And that ending. Ugh.
The game is split into mini-hubs, as I said, usually grass and rocks – aka valleys and cliffs. A couple biomes went a little crazy and changed the skins to snow and sand, but the bones of the areas never deviate from…um…flat with some high bits. Within each ever-widening area are five balls of light, and through environmental puzzling, when three of these balls are retrieved, a gate is opened to teleport you to your next area. Sometimes I rode on large creatures as part of my transition – the back of an uber turtle, the head of a brachiosaurus thing, a giant flying jellyfish – and these short journeys are at first enjoyable, thanks to the rousing music and sense of wonder. With no variation, the wonder soon turns to checking my phone.
Early on, little OMNO gets an air dash and soon after that the ability to turn his magic staff into a hoverboard. Cool. Then comes teleportation and finally floating from above. Nice. These skills are then obviously put to good use via escalating conundrums as you progress. Right? Right. With chunky caveats. All of the energy orbs I seek are high up. Every mini-open environ – don’t worry, there’s literally nothing to do besides collect the orbs – sets the task of going, you know, up. That’s really it: there’s the thing above, how do I get up to it? There might be a hidden switch that creates a new platform or begins a timed set of jumps that require some air dashes. (Watch those air dashes, by the way; way too frequently, lazy OMNO prefers to smash his face and fall rather than put out a hand and grab the ledge.)
For a game about climbing so much, Omno can’t actually climb anything; it’s all jumps and using things for height boosts. Floating becomes the crux of much of the game in the back half, overcoming gigantic chasms here and there with the aid of some snazzy teleportation, and here the camera presents a few additional frustrations as it can be difficult to guide Omno while also guiding the screen. And the hoverboard’s never fully used. When I got it, I thought here was an interesting new dimension to the gameplay but it’s only fun for downhill traversal – mostly everything is flat and he runs as fast as the hoverboard moves up an incline – as each area becomes unnecessarily wider and more of a slog to get around. Throughout the game, there’s just a hanging pall of wasted possibility.
This is a casual game with sometimes-finicky controls that rewards dry perseverance and has absolutely no surprises in its flabby three-to-four-hour run-time. Its puzzles are mercifully straightforward for the most part and even occasionally satisfying. In the end, if variety is the spice of life, I would say that OMNO is maybe parsley.
I sighed a lot, and they weren’t swooning sighs, especially a few times when I hoped I was finished only to be scooped off to do more of the same, like Groundhog Day but with a mute potato cast instead of Bill Murray.
OMNO swings for the fences in a few regards, an admirable intention always for any adventure, aiming for something enlightening and refreshing, but after initial promises, it’s like someone blew up a balloon and then let the air out, leaving just a sad, floppy thing on the floor.
It’s all very disappointing because I like the genre and the game looked interesting from the demo I played. But since I’ve run out of OMNO puns, I’ll call it a day, for as my old Scottish grandpappy used to say on departure from family gatherings, “OMNO gonna overstay my welcome.”
OMNO is available via the Nintendo Game Store, Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam.
Watch the trailer for OMNO below: