I’m sitting in LAX, waiting for a plane to take me home to San Francisco. I’m in a totally blitzed, brain overloaded, post-E3 fug, and my laptop’s repeatedly warning me that unless I find a power outlet very soon, it’s going to shut itself down. Every one I can see is taken, so instead I’ll keep on writing until it does. Because while my head is spinning with the myriad of amazing new games I've seen over the last few days, I really want to tell you about an unassuming PS3 title called Ibb and Obb.
Apparently it’s been knocking around in one form or another since 2008, but I hadn’t seen it before. I got a quick glimpse of it as I burned through Sony’s booth, ricocheting from one appointment to another. Despite it being shown modestly on just one single screen, and despite giving it only a fleeting glance as I rushed by, it grabbed my attention. It reminded me of when I’d to go into an arcade, and I’d see a bunch of new machines – but one would really stand out, triggering some kind of primordial chemical attraction that would set my gaming heart pounding. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about you baby I like.
And about halfway through that last sentence, my laptop finally gives up the ghost. I sit, staring into space, trying not to look like I’m being mildly amused by some dude from Ubisoft in the row of seats behind me, attempting to impress a young lady with tales of his E3 experiences. I know polite, feigned interest when I hear it. Evidently, he does not.
Back in San Francisco, after a cup of tea and something to eat - and some juice for my laptop - I’m still thinking about Ibb and Obb. Why, I don’t really know. It’s bright, colorful, and simple beyond belief, and I know I’m being irrational, but I just like it. Maybe the finished version of the game won't quite be the superstar I hope it will be, but damn. If it’s not, I’ll be bitterly disappointed – because judging by the demo I played, it has great potential.
Created by Dutch indie development team Sparpweed, Ibb and Obb is simple in concept. It’s a platform game featuring the two eponymous characters, who are always present. A line splits the screen into two, and has a twin gravitational pull. Above it, gravity is normal. Fall through a gap, and gravity is reversed, so you’re running along upside down. I’m probably not explaining it well, so watch this video.
There we go. Hopefully you now know exactly what I’m talking about.
There are two ways to play. In one-player mode, you control both characters. Each is assigned their own PS3 thumb stick, so they can both run around separately. Left and right is left and right, and up is jump. Except when you’re upside down, and then down is up, because up is down. Confused? Yeah. It does your head in. It’s kind of like when you try patting your head while rubbing your stomach. Except in this instance, you’re also frequently being turned upside and have to rub your head and pat your stomach.
In two-player mode, each person takes control of an individual character, and both work together as a team to reach the objective at the end of each level. It’s a simple enough goal, but of course, getting there is complicated. Sometimes there are gaps in the floor that only Ibb or Obb can get through. Sometimes you need to use both characters to bounce off each other to make otherwise impossible jumps. Sometimes one needs to activate something to let another get past an otherwise impassible barrier. It’s bread-and-butter platforming action, but the way it’s presented, and the way it works is minimal, yet mind-bendingly fun.
Playing one-player with two characters is a really twisted gaming experience. Coordinating both Ibb and Obb's movements simultaneously was challenging and frustrating – especially when one character was upside down and both were on the opposite sides of the screen to their respective thumb sticks – but it was always fun. I imagine two-player mode has its own difficulties, being all about both players choreographing moves together, rather than dealing with the issue of doing two things at once. But without playing it myself, it's difficult to judge whether that mode is as much fun as single-player. That said, I'd find it difficult to imagine it wouldn't be a really good laugh at the very least.
Ibb and Obb was the last game I played at this year's E3, and I’m really glad I saved it until the very end. After playing many big-budget, multi-million dollar franchises, this final, simple taste of gaming as I headed out of the door was a great reminder that while video games continue to hit new highs of sophistication and production values, it’s still possible to take the simplest things, add a creative twist, and knock it out of the park.