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For: iPad   Also on: iPhone


Product: Oquonie | Publisher: David Mondou-Labbe | Format: iPad | Genre: Adventure, Puzzle | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Oquonie iPad, thumbnail 1
[Warning: this review contains spoilers. To avoid them, read everything up to 'Drawn asunder' and everything after 'Art of darkness'.]

If you like Oquonie, I don't think we can be friends.

That's not a criticism of you, nor even of the game. It's simply that we have such radically different sensibilities that we'd just make each other angry.

But before we get into all that, let's start with an observation we can all agree on: Oquonie is beautiful. Undeniably, conspicuously beautiful.

It looks like a perfect, surreal, animated doodle, with hand-drawn monochrome isometric stages, imaginative 'bizaroid' characters, and richly detailed backdrops. The quality of illustrator Rekka Bellum's draftsmanship and imagination is evident in every pixel.

To whatever extent you get drawn into Oquonie's strange little world - and even I did a bit - the graphics play easily as big a part as the gameplay in getting you there.

Drawn asunder

The aim of the game, according to the blurb, is to 'find your way across an intertwined megastructure'. In practice this means swiping diagonally on the screen to fuss a creature over the chunky grid squares that make up the floor of each room.

The creature you're controlling changes over the course of the game.

You start with a long-necked, vaguely phallic thing that looks like a bit like a slow worm with little arms and legs, but if you collect three matching symbols from the monsters that are dotted throughout the game's 'intertwined megastructure' this turns into the creature denoted by the symbols - a pig-like thing, a rabbit-like thing, a bird-like thing, and so on.

This allows you to enter new areas of the 'intertwined megastructure' through doors that only open when you take the correct form - though you can also step on teleporters at certain points, which transport you to different parts of the 'intertwined megastructure'. Or, at least, I think they do.

Some rooms contain an owl. If you nudge one of these it gives you a clue in the form of a row of markings, which seems to correspond to markings that you find on the floor in some of the rooms.

And some rooms contain a shark, which divests you of the symbols you've collected, which is useful if you've collected a symbol, decided you actually need to collect a different symbol, and then realised that you can't find the creature that gave it to you in order to give it back to them.

Animal magic

Not being able to find things is a common predicament, at least until you learn Oquonie's idiosyncratic rules.

Some rooms are connected in a straightforward way, so that you can pass between them as you would two rooms in the real world. But others are less co-operative - when you try to backtrack through a door you've just used you find yourself in a different room altogether, and so you have to learn how the areas in the 'intertwined megastructure' interconnect by memory.

Oquonie has a Groundhog Day sort of structure, in that you return to the same areas over and over again, but with different sections blocked off.

As far as I can tell, the winning strategy is to collect tiles in order to transform, and then to start collecting the next set of tiles before you step onto a teleporter and reappear in a different (but overlapping) part of the 'intertwined megastructure' where you can collect the rest.

If you fail to collect the tile you need before stepping on the teleporter, you have to spend some time redoing what you've already done, and this gets less fun the more you feel you understand what's happening.

Art of darkness

Oquonie is immensely irritating at first, but over time you come to grasp - or feel you come to grasp - its broken, dream-like logic, and it's at its best during this phase, as you learn how to navigate its new and beautiful 'interconnected megastructure' through interaction, experimentation, and moderate contemplation.

But then you learn its rules, or some of them, and the spell breaks. Stab-in-the-dark exploration becomes bored schlepping, often tinged with indignant rage as you suffer under the burden of knowing just enough to realise that you screwed up but not quite enough to know how to avoid it in future.

Then, later, as you blunder/delve deeper into 'interconnected megastructure', knowing that your progress is resting on a gossamer-thin platform of confusion, Oquonie actually becomes quite tense and atmospheric. The whole experience is like reading a long hipster beat poem containing passages of beauty and passages of self-involved drivel.

You might really like Oquonie. It's unique, beautiful, ethereal, surreal, and occasionally satisfying. By giving you no instructions or cues it forces you to engage with its world in a way that few games do, which is to its benefit.

You might even be able to understand it, interpreting the maps on the walls and the patterns on the tablets as though they were familiar mathematical symbols or words in English.

If so, please take out your pen, write down the solution, pop a stamp on an envelope, and send it to someone who gives a damn.
Reviewer photo
Rob Hearn | 20 February 2014
Oquonie is beautiful, unique, surreal, arch, and difficult in at least two senses of the word. Only gamers with a fondness for the avant-garde should bother
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