Solo developer Jonas Manke gave up his full time job as an animator to create Studio Inkyfox and begin working full time on his hobby project Omno in 2019. He was able to do this having gained substantial backing from a very successful Kickstarter campaign and the game has just been made available on day one through Xbox Game Pass. Let’s take a journey into the unknown in the XboxEra review of Omno.
The game is a 3D Platformer with hidden secrets to discover and puzzles to solve. It is an extremely laid back experience and a journey of discovery as much as it is a game. The graphics make the most of beautiful lighting, fog effects and shadow to create various biospheres that come alive as you travel through them while a very relaxing soundtrack similar in tone to that of the Ori games transports you along with it. From snowy vistas with icy lakes to arid deserts, lush forests and even a segment up in the clouds, this game is something very special to experience.
The main character is some form of Pilgrim who carries nothing but a long staff as he travels through a stunningly realised game world in the footsteps of his ancestors. He heads towards an unknown final destination while bearing witness to the extreme differences of habitat and animal life on his way there. Light seems to have been the fixation of the people who took this journey before him and absolutely every obstacle in his way is solved through light collection. Light Orbs exist in various generally hard to reach places and require differing levels of platforming and puzzle solving to be attained. Once collected the Orbs send a pulse that powers up various pieces of ancient technology and opens up pathways to other more remote Orbs.
The controls begin simply mainly relying on walking and jumping but as you progress you are presented with different skills as the platforming requirements gets more complex. Dash, Surf, teleporting and floating all become available to you and are mostly possible due to your magical staff. These abilities then have to be used in unison to succeed.
An imaginative collection of unique plants and animals exist within the world of Omno. As you encounter them you are rewarded with the name of the species and a two line description of each one in a journal. Pressing the X button when you are in close proximity to any of these rewards you with small shards of light. These shards are collected in a device on the pilgrims wrist and when fully charged this can be used to power up smaller pieces of machinery. It should also be noted that overdoing the shard collection makes you run at super speed for a few seconds. All animals seem to know and respect the pilgrim as they willingly give their light crystals to him when asked. Some plants and animals can also be used to flick you up or hold you in the air for a few seconds to aid the platforming process. When you move between different biospheres every few levels rare giant creatures appear to give you an amazingly picturesque ride on their back. On arrival at each new location players can press the Y button to raise their staff and display a Light Map of the area. This is a blank canvas until you seek out and use the local meditation point. This action sends out a pulse which collects information about all of the Light Orbs in the area and afterwards the light map displays all of your local objectives. Interestingly, the game is designed so that not every objective has to be fulfilled to progress to the next area, once you have solved the puzzle which opens up the level exit you are free to move on. This prevents getting frustrated and stuck in one place such as when I could not find one of the story cubes which are situated at random on each level. These are interesting for the game narrative and I failed to find three of these during my playthrough but at least I could go on to complete the game.
Unlike most games these days there is no combat in Omno whatsoever which was pretty refreshing. This is a voyage of discovery after all and it was nice to have nothing get in the way of that. When you die, which is mostly from falling off the map you just respawn back in the same place. Save points have been placed just before each major puzzle or platforming section so there is no need to constantly retrace your steps to get back to where you were. Personally, I hate games that punish you for failing to complete a tricky precision jump by making you start again miles away from where you were as extra punishment for your failure.
Puzzle design and complexity is just right in my opinion. They are designed at a general ability so that they can be worked out fairly quickly and do not spoil the calming atmosphere with moments of frustration. Don’t let this fool you however as further into the adventure I was stumped on a few occasions but it was still possible to work out what to do through a process of repetition and observing what was going on around me. For anyone who has never played a game with puzzle elements before they could do far worse than start with Omno, especially as the little Green dude you befriend along the way leads you to points of interest as a slight hint if you are stuck and the game has the aforementioned option to move on without 100% completion being attained on a level.
Sound design is something else worth mentioning as the game atmosphere was all the better for it. Hearing your footsteps as you pad along the top of a sand dune or the scrape of your staff as you surf across the top of a frozen lake really helps the player to get lost in the experience of what is happening on screen. One of my favourite sounds was the grinding rasp of the ancestors technology coming to life as it all seemed to be constructed from granite.
I have left a lot of things out of this review as I do not want to spoil the game for anyone, especially the ending as I do not think it could have ended any better. This game really has to be played to be appreciated and I do not want to take any of the wonder away from your experience. Needless to say, it was cool to discover an ancient monument in the desert that looks like it honours some of the people who took part in the Kickstarter campaign to finance the game.
The game played smoothly on my Xbox Series X with no issues or glitches apparent. Load times in game are virtually non-existent. There are no special accessibility options for Omno but having been developed by a single person with finite resources this is not really to be expected.
In conclusion, Omno is a very calming experience of exploration and wonder. Anyone with an interest in platforming, puzzle solving and losing themselves in a make believe world should play it as soon as they can. It appears to this reviewer that the gamble taken by Jonas Manke in giving up his day job to create this masterpiece was the right thing to do. Hopefully, as it is available right now on Xbox Game Pass a lot of people will take the time to experience it.
Played on Xbox Series X