Poor Oozi. The perpetually grinning yellow alien isn’t likely to join peers like Mario, Meat Boy, Rayman, and Sonic among the ranks of the platforming protagonist elite anytime soon. Awesome Games Studio has indeed erected a vibrant and deadly world for its fledgling hero to charge through, but for all its visual creativity, Oozi: Earth Adventure is missing a certain spark to elevate it beyond its by-the-numbers approach to the platforming genre. It touches on all of the familiar bases without adding anything particularly interesting to the mix. That doesn’t make it a bad game, though finding a reason to keep plugging away when the unflinching difficulty gnashes its teeth is a struggle.
Oozi is a likable-enough fellow. He’s cheerful, slightly dim-witted, and prone to dying from the littlest of scratches. His day job as an intergalactic deliveryman hits a snag when he runs out of fuel and crash-lands on planet Earth–only this isn’t quite the Earth you’re accustomed to. Overrun by strange critters and humanoid aliens that are wrecking the place, Earth isn’t such a friendly planet anymore. It’s here where Oozi wakes up alone and without all of his high-tech doodads to help him. His quest to recover pieces of his missing gear and ultimately find his ship so he can be on his merry way starts off simple but soon ratchets up to a serious challenge.
At its core, Oozi: Earth Adventure is a no-nonsense 2D platformer that draws many of its mechanics from classic games of the past. Rather than innovating, it’s concerned solely with testing your reflexes and your patience as you zip along and navigate your way through increasingly insidious stages littered with deadly obstacles. Checkpoints are liberally scattered at first, though they stretch out in the later stages that really push you to master the environments through repetition. Oozi can only run and jump to start, but recovering pieces of his missing suit grants additional abilities that change the gameplay up in mostly predictable ways. Before long, you can double-jump, butt-stomp, punch enemies, and wall-jump. But even as new skills are added to your repertoire, none of them feel particularly exciting. They’re familiar to a fault; the constant recycling of old ideas saps much of the sense of reward you get from earning new powers.
Despite their mundane scope, these fundamental abilities are still handy as the environments get tougher and throw bigger challenges your way. Sneaky stage designs quickly scale upward in complexity to ensure your trek isn’t an easy one. Spikes, monsters, lasers, platforms, and all manner of other obstacles are meticulously placed to provide maximum irritation. Reaching checkpoints becomes an especially grueling process in the latter half of the game.
The fact that environmental dangers do get a little more inventive as you go helps balance some of the frustration of dying over and over again. Hauling and hurling timed explosives through long stretches to take down walls is an interesting and nerve-racking challenge. Ducking into the background to avoid monsters is clever too, and the screen-warping visual effect that kicks in as you approach running out of air in poison-gas zones is a nice touch. These accoutrements complement the overall excellent visual design. Oozi: Earth Adventure is a sharp-looking game.
Staying alive is a tricky endeavor. Oozi is a fragile fellow, but collecting a certain number of stars as you jump and pummel through each stage does let you boost your health. Hunting down special bonus stars also unlocks extra stages to play in Challenge mode. Infinite lives is the ultimate savior here, since death comes frequently–sometimes even seconds after your last respawn. Oozi’s jump mechanics and midair responsiveness aren’t always as tight as they need to be for certain maneuvers. Wall jumping in particular feels off too. Despite hitting the controls with precise timing, you won’t always stick or rebound as you should, and these sequences turn into aggravating wrestling matches with the game mechanics that frequently end with a drop to your doom.
As a result, pushing through tough spots to hit the next checkpoint can feel grindy, though your reward for making it is not having to ever replay that same stretch again. That is, unless you’re a true glutton for punishment. Arcade mode lets you revisit stages for speed runs that have you pushing to a high score as fast as possible. Challenge mode is more enjoyable, since it offers up fresh stages with primary and secondary goals to complete.
It’s hard to fault Oozi: Earth Adventure for simply sticking to what works within its genre, like so many other games before it. But there’s not much here that feels fresh or exciting. The platforming action poses a formidable challenge and offers some nice variety across its diverse areas, but it’s disappointing that this cartoonish adventure rarely pushes beyond the bounds out of its tidy, safe little box. Being generic and sporadically punishing doesn’t totally outweigh the fun, as there is some to be found here, and the frustrating moments are pushed through with a bit of patience. Oozi: Earth Adventure just doesn’t do enough to stand out in a crowd of similar games.