Aplump little creature encased within a translucent ball sets off on a pressure-free, challenge-light musical journey. It might sound punishingly twee, but Ode is, well, a joy: the kind of game you’d get if you spliced Grow Home and
Electroplankton – or, perhaps, Super Monkey Ball if it was remade by Björk. With hints of Katamari Damacy, too, Ubisoft Reflections’ latest experiment is a splendidly bouncy and tactile celebration of sound.
You’ll roll through tunnels and caves of dark, glittering rock, with lightly percussive thumps accompanying each bounce. Bulbous protrusions will rise up from the ground as you tumble past, bumping you along and producing musical notes. You’ll stumble into other unearthly lifeforms: collide with a cluster of purple polyps and you’ll hear the hiss of a hi-hat, while writhing nozzles spray out motes of light, as if you’d disturbed a nest of fireflies. Fungal growths sway, pulse and undulate, some sucking you toward them, others blowing you up and out. Then there are larger green growths that lean in as you approach, turning orange when touched; activate all these within the local area, and a central mass will burst open, releasing ribbons of light that dart outward. The soundtrack that has been building almost imperceptibly since the start becomes louder, gaining another layer of instrumentation, and you realise that your every action has been contributing to this strange, alien performance.
Meanwhile, spherical star pieces act as both a breadcrumb trail and a collectable of sorts, subtly guiding you while attaching themselves like limpets. They’re easier to shake off, mind: the left trigger casts them out, with the right calling them back and corralling them into a tight circle. You’ll need them for some light environmental puzzles, throwing them at green nodes that retreat if you get too close. Colourful pools prompt various transformations, affording you new ways to explore and make noise across these four large worlds. Perhaps the best of these turns you into a kind of treacly Slinky, as you slurp your way up rocky steps.
On occasion, Ode can be slightly fiddly, with an inconsistent jump causing a few unwanted falls, though with no time pressure it hardly matters. Otherwise, you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction that’s reminiscent of Okami, in that your very presence is helping bring a quiet world to bright, flourishing life. That gently euphoric feeling crescendos at the end of each stage as you ascend to the skies; there’s no post-game results screen to tell you how many orbs you found or how long you took, but none is needed. In every sense, the pleasure here is in the playing.
Other objects will sporadically hitch a ride: some parp out notes, while a bomb of sorts releases a bassy pulse which sends your collected star bits scattering all over the place. Still, retrieving them is really no bother at all