Koi is a puzzle / action game that swam all the way to our shores from China. It's the first Chinese-developed game to come to the PlayStation 4, and now that the country's ban on game consoles is gone, it probably won't be the last.
Koi's premise is neat: You're a fish who gradually travels downstream to try and discover the pollution source that's mutating the river's finned residents. Interestingly, the game visited us previous to its PlayStation 4 outing. It's available on English-language App Stores as well as Google Play.
When Koi first came to mobile last summer, I gave it a go. Though it gave me a case of mega-sadness to come down on such a pretty game trying very hard to be artistically relevant, I didn't have a choice. Koi's mobile twin has two problems that are prevalent in mobile games: Unresponsive touch screen-based controls, and questionable in-app purchases.
Koi is engineered to be a relatively stress-free game, but there are still hazards you need to avoid, and obstacles to navigate around. When you don't have the means for a clean, quick getaway and you wind up dying over and over as a consequence, it's pretty infuriating (which kind of kills the reason behind playing a "zen" game, no?).
The mobile version of Koi also has some fishy in-app purchases, so to speak. You need to buy lives and hints, the latter of which points you in the direction you need to go in order to complete a stage. Quite necessary, since Koi's stages can be sprawling.
I was understandably curious about how Koi would be re-tooled for consoles, so I gave the PlayStation 4 release a try.
Thankfully, the new format eliminates two of Koi's biggest problems: It moves perfectly well with a tangible controller, and there aren't any in-app purchases (or lives) to speak of. Hints are free; to activate one, you simply need to press on the controller's left bumper.
Happy for the chance to finally judge Koi on its content instead of its mechanics, I dove in. When I crawled out about two hours later and shook myself dry, I was ready to call out Koi for what it is: Short, stylish, and soothing, but ultimately light on content.
Koi's action takes place in two separate areas. There's the calm, clean world upstream, and the oily, polluted waters downstream. The gameplay doesn't change much between the areas, though. In both realms you're stalked by huge black fish who charge you as soon as they snag you in their sights. If you're hit, you're stunned for a few seconds. In the mobile version of the game, getting hit costs you a life, but in the PlayStation 4 release, you're fine after a bit of rest.
As you swim through Koi's levels, you collect little fishes of varying colors. You need to guide these fish to lotuses of corresponding colors in order to make them bloom. When the flowers flourish, you're allowed to progress to the next area.
Occasionally, you're asked to solve puzzles. Early in the game, you go through a three-step "Simon"-style game that forces you back to the first sequence if you screw up. Later, you play a simple memory-match game. Both are pretty banal and add little to the overall experience.
In fact, Koi PS4 is a hard game to gauge overall thanks in part to its lack of death. There are threats, and they are out to get you, but there's little penalty when you get hit, so there's no reason to put effort into staying alive.
Obviously, there are tons of excellent games that don't punish players with death. And the PlayStation 4 iteration of Koi is obviously more interested in guiding you around its colorful world than making you fight for your life. Why have the black fish, then, or the exposed wires capable of shocking you?
The answer can be traced back to the mobile version of the game, which costs $0.99 to download, then encourages you to buy new lives and hints via in-app purchases. Koi for PlayStation 4 costs $9.99 to download ($7.99 for PlayStation Plus members) and does away with in-app purchases, but in doing so, it does away with the motivation to survive.
What's left, then? You can collect stars scattered throughout each level, and you can also collect puzzle pieces that connect to form some very pretty story scenes. That's about it. It might be enough for some people who just want to be a fish for an afternoon, but it'll leave everyone else feeling kind of empty.
There's nothing wrong with retooling a mobile game for consoles, PCs, and handhelds. The more platforms a game hits, the more hands it runs through. That's best for everyone. However, developers need to remember that they may be required to beef up their games accordingly. Simply upscaling the graphics and doing away with in-app purchases isn't always the answer. The console version of Koi has potential to be a standout indie hit, but as it is now, it's a very small fish in a very big pond.