Some games are just plain better when you play them with a friend. Whether they're large-scale MMOs, or simple puzzle games, having some company along for your journey can not only make the experience more enjoyable, but also easier. The latest indie game to be featured as part of the PlayStation Network's PLAY promotion, Sparpweed's "ibb and obb" is a most excellent puzzle-platformer that proves why having two heads is better than one.
"ibb and obb" is one of those rare games that comes with virtually no story, no direction, and no constraints. There are two characters, one green and one purple, who are going from left to right, traversing whatever is in their way, and doing whatever it takes to get there. The twist in "ibb and obb" is that their world is split, with gravity changing its orientation on each side of the line. The two characters can switch between gravitational pulls through portals on the ground and walls to solve puzzles and kill enemies. Each enemy that you defeat drops crystals on the other side of the world that your partner can collect, and one of the only payoffs in the game is seeing how many crystals you have collected at the end of each level.
There are a variety of ways to control both ibb and obb throughout the game, allowing you to play either alone or with someone else. Designed as a co-op experience, if you can find a friend to sit next to you on the couch and play as the ibb to your obb, you're going to have the most success trying to navigate the game's puzzles, as well as the most amount of fun. Alternatively, you could take the game online and find a second player, either someone from your friends list or a random buddy. While this is a great way to have some help, it can be a bit tedious depending on who you're playing with. If you want a true challenge, you can tackle "ibb and obb" solo, and control each of the characters on your own, on one controller, using both sides of your brain. This last option is the most novel, but it's also the most challenging.
The crux of “ibb and obb” rests on its co-op gameplay, and, thankfully, it really shines. Both ibb and obb play vital roles as you try and traverse each of the well-designed levels. It’s very rare for there to be a puzzle that can be solved by only using one character while the other one sits back and watches ... and if that is the solution, you’ve likely gone through a host of different scenarios before you got to that conclusion. Even seasoned players are likely to end up with a confused look on their face more often than not throughout the game. On the plus side, this makes figuring out each of the puzzles, no matter how big or small, very satisfying.
Outside of the well done gameplay, “ibb and obb” also includes some small touches that help give the game a sense of individuality. Sure, the idle animations and the celebratory dances at the end of each level are both funny and endearing but it’s really the addition of the silent communication system that stands out the most. Taking cues from some other online co-op games like “Journey,” “ibb and obb” allows players to signal their partners without actually saying anything. By using the second analog stick, whomever is controlling ibb or obb can create a trail of their respective color on the screen that can clue in their teammates to what they think may be the next steps to solve the puzzle. This feature is great for anyone that doesn’t like to wear a headset while they’re playing games, but it’s also is a great feature for anyone that’s just playing with another person, even if they’re in the same room - it’s a whole lot better than pointing.
For everything that’s good in “ibb and obb,” it isn’t for everyone. If you’re going at the game alone then you’re going to run into a whole different set of challenges compared to the two player experience. The controls are different, depending on whether you’re solo or with a friend, and that switch, while reasonable, is likely to throw some people off. Additionally, it is a whole lot harder to control both ibb and obb at the same time while trying to solve some of these puzzles, and really, a good amount of these puzzles are hard enough to begin with.
“ibb and obb” is a shining example of how simplistic gameplay can blend with a co-op experience to create a really challenging and enjoyable game. Each of the levels will test your reasoning and platforming skills while ibb and obb silently trudge through their adventure. The game offers little-to-no frills, leaving most of its focus on good game design, making it a simple experience that virtually anyone can pick up and enjoy. While the single-player mode offers the ultimate challenge (or frustration), the game is at its most enjoyable when you have a friend (or an anonymous PSN buddy) along for the ride, and to help you work your way through the puzzles. “ibb and obb” is the perfect PlayStation 3 game for anyone that excelled at playing well with others in the schoolyard. If you went home with a “U” for “Unsatisfactory” on your report card, you may want to think about finding something else to play.