Koi is a game from Chinese developer Dotoyou and publisher Oasis Games and is actually the first Chinese developed PlayStation 4 title that has come to Western territories. Koi is a top-down game where you play as a fish in a bright and colourful world.
The game sees you play as a small Koi fish in a river divided up into sections where the natural flow of life has been disturbed. The once beautiful flowers and plants no longer grow and large black fish swim about in search of smaller fish. It becomes your goal to restore the habitat to its original state and see that the flowers grow once again. This involves puzzle solving, exploration and avoiding the large black fish.
The premise and gameplay are simple and doesn’t push the difficulty too much. The gameplay is also fairly limited and there isn’t much sense of progression and it would have been nice to have had a bit more variation or development over the course of the game. The game is separated into stages and it starts out bright and colourful with vibrant environments and slowly becomes darker and progressively gloomy as the game goes on. Halfway through the game we are introduced to a new obstacle in the form of electricity but it doesn’t really mix up the gameplay enough, which is a shame.
The games controls are simple and you learn the ropes by starting out with a basic tutorial that’s presented well. You move the fish about using the left analogue stick and interact with things using the O button. That’s all that you will be using for the entirety of the game, which is ok but unfortunately the lack of variation in stages and gameplay objectives mean that it gets repetitive pretty quickly. You also don’t swim very fast which can feel tedious at times and frustrating when you need to evade the large enemy fish.
You swim about the pond in search of coloured fish that match certain flowers of the same colour. You simply swim around until you find a fish and press circle to make it follow you. You then have to find the particular flower and drop the fish off. This causes the flower to bloom and therefore begin your journey to restore the true state of the pond. In most cases, the flowers are in the open, and you’ll just need to find the proper fish and bring it there.
The puzzle aspect comes into play when you have to do things like pushing smaller flowers together to create a larger one to blossom. Solving these puzzles means you can progress to the next area and open up barriers in your way. The puzzles are extremely simple and offer no real challenge. It mainly come down to fetching various fish and dropping them off, often with the fish being directly next to the particular flower. It feels less of a puzzle game and more of a therapeutic experience with its pleasant visuals and calming music.
Koi does offer a little bit of variation with its mini-games. One example is where you have to collect glowing leaves that appear in a certain order and others include things like spinning squares to make sure the various puzzle pieces are lined up correctly. These extra gameplay mechanics are decent but don’t add enough to make it feel worthwhile or add much to the overall experience. These elements feel a bit tacked on and feel like they were only added to pad out the limited main game.
You never really feel under much threat, apart from the large ominous fish that patrol the pond. Taking damage causes your fish to be temporarily slowed, and you also lose the fish you have gathered, which isn’t too hard anyway. It’s an experience that some people may find boring or simply pointless but I could see how some people will enjoy its relaxing and calming aspects that I think the developer was intending to create. I actually enjoyed playing the game and appreciated the simplistic approach. It’s nice to have a game that allowed me to take a break from other more challenging games. I have recently been playing Dark Souls 3 and Koi felt like a nice palette cleanser.
The level design is decent enough but doesn’t really push the idea far enough. The early stages are extremely simple with large open areas and colourful designs. As the game progresses, it becomes much gloomier and darker. You then progress onto darker levels where the large black fish become more threatening, with a field of view that you must avoid. This adds tension and more frustrating moments that in my opinion don’t suit the rest of the game. I think it would have been better to have either dialed up the difficulty even more or simply kept the game as a therapeutic experience, rather than something that ends up feeling half-baked or middle of the road.
The game is on the short side at around an hour and a half long, which I didn’t mind as its fairly repetitive and towards the end I was starting to feel like I had seen all that the game had to offer. There are collectables to find during the game but they don’t offer much of a challenge and are very easy to find.
One of the games best aspects is the presentation and colourful visual design. The initial stages are bright and colourful with it slowly turning to darker areas that I didn’t enjoy as much. The music is peaceful and adds to the atmosphere of the game. The game can look beautiful at times but unfortunately the game feels a little bit shallow in terms of gameplay, which I didn’t mind but some people will find boring. The game runs well and the animations are fluid. The collectables do offer some sense of replayability but they don’t feel interesting enough to invest time going back to find them as they don’t reward you with anything.
Overall Koi is an okay game with some nice ideas and pleasant visuals. The game is on the short side and the gameplay doesn’t really offer enough to keep you absorbed and there isn’t any real sense of urgency or challenge. The game may have been better if the ideas had been pushed further, maybe with some sort of story or gameplay variation that felt more impactful or interesting.
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