At first blush, Omegaland looks like a charming, fun little platformer. Indeed, that’s its greatest strength: it does have a really fun art style, evocative of late-era NES games. Of course, if you’ve spotted that the game is by noted pretentious moper Jonas Kyratzes, you’re probably already expecting that this fun façade is hiding something darker and more sinister.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. The wildly underrated Eversion does it brilliantly — the game begins as bright-colored and cheery, and proceeds to subvert all the player’s expectations, while simultaneously skewering the pretentious "deep philosophical commentary" that wastes so many bytes in so many indie platformers. Omegaland, sadly, falls four-square into the pretentious commentary trap. Unlike Braid, however, it doesn’t have the decency to stick to first-year philosophy student perspective bits and condemnations of nuclear war; sadly, Omegaland takes a big twist about halfway through and then becomes a longwinded bit of communist propaganda.
Communist propaganda. In 2017. It’s official: we are to be spared nothing.
As you can see, there’s no exaggeration: I mean full-on communist. In case you’re holding out hope (as I was) that the game wouldn’t be quite this stupid, well, this is not to be; at no point does it step back from the brink. Once the preaching starts it never lets up, and the game leaps boldly down the Marxist rabbit hole, culminating in an ending so insulting that even Kyratzes must have had an inkling that something was wrong. One can only hope.
There’s more to a platformer than its heavy-handed left-wing moralizing, of course. Or there should be, at any rate, but it’s hard to say conclusively that there is in this case. Omegaland is one of the most rudimentary platformers I’ve ever played; the controls are limited to moving side-to-side and jumping, and the only powerups are temproary invincibility and the rarely-seen high jump. Still and all, one could make a good game on that base (lord knows it’s been done enough times), but that requires better level design by far than what Omegaland has to offer. The levels are very basic and sparsely populated, offering little more than simplistic run-to-the-right gameplay. The mobs are slow and generally easy to avoid, and the only pickup of note is coins, which can be spent on various character upgrades.
The main problem with the levels is that they’re all more-or-less the same. The majority of them use the same graphical style (there is an ice world and a desert world, but each of them has just a few levels), the same basic flow, and the same mobs. There are "castle" levels occasionally, and those are a nice change of pace, but they’re few and far-between. Around the halfway point of the game, the aforementioned "twist" occurs, and the levels change substantially, and, for just a few minutes, the game is actually interesting and fun, but it’s a trap — from that point forward the levels become even more identical, and the quality of the level design falls yet farther.
This is especially a problem in the "glitch" levels, which are incoherent by design. This is a cool trick to play occasionally (Axiom Verge uses it to great effect, for example), but there are lots of these levels, and many of them aren’t optional. One does eventually tire of levels that were "designed" seemingly by spattering blocks and tiles on the screen at random.
Indeed, this betrays a major problem with Omegaland: it goes on far too long. Eversion is just eight levels long; long enough to introduce its core gimmick, play with it, and make it seem satisfying when you master it. Omegaland introduces its gimmick, then sends you through hours of identical zones doing identical things with it. There’s no real difficulty progression here, either; the first half of the game is insultingly easy, then you hit the twist, and all of a sudden the game becomes very hard until you finally build up enough coins to start buying needed upgrades. The difficulty doesn’t increase to keep pace, though, so by the end of the game it’s back to being insultingly easy — you’ll have a shield that can absorb forty hits per level, ten health, health regeneration, and healing from several different pickups. It’s actually pretty difficult to lose at this point!
The overworld map calls Super Mario World to mind immediately, but is much more sparsely-populated; Super Mario World seems to be packed with levels and things to do, and it’s hard to get lost, since you can see a great deal of the map at one time. By spreading its content out over a large number of screens, Omegaland adds a minor navigational challenge, and a lot of pointless travel time. The second half of the game plays some interesting tricks with the world map, and that’s fun, but it also infuriatingly adds respawning "sentries" that steal your coins and love to hang around at screen edges, where they’ll get you as soon as you transition.
There are a lot of levels in Omegaland that don’t need to be played; they aren’t blocking anything, and they don’t contain an essential pickup. In many games, this is a plus, since optional content is interesting and fun, and there could be interesting powerups or secrets to be found. In Omegaland, these levels are all the same, and there’s nothing in them but coins. Don’t let that fool you into thinking you can skip them, though, because you’ll need a lot of coins to buy the upgrades from the various shops, many of which are mandatory for getting through the game. The only "secrets" of note are various oddball pickups — different types of food and drink — that have no actual gameplay effect and merely earn Steam achievements. So if you’re interested in achievement hunting, hey, there you go.
It’s a shame that Omegaland wastes so much energy on trying to sell communism to the player, because, when it’s not Marxing your ears off, it’s actually pretty clever and well-written. A lot of the characters do have personality, and they speak in distinct voices, which is not always easy to do. There are some occasional bits of fourth-wall breaking and references to other video games, but not so many that they become tiresome, and there’s even a sales pitch for one of Kyraztes’s other games; normally that doesn’t bother me, but it sticks out like a sore thumb to have the dude marketing at me out of one side of his mouth, and preaching communism out of the other.
Apart from the charming graphics and cute dialogue, the game is very barebones. The sound is basic and uninteresting, and the music, while sufficient, is not remarkable, and, in some cases (such as the invulnerability ditty) seems bizarre and out of place. There is no subscreen or sophisticated HUD that I’m aware of, which is odd in a game with so many character upgrades and collectibles; it’s left to the player to remember what he has and what it does. There is also no controller support of any description, and the player cannot rebind the keys; fortunately, the game supports movement with either arrow keys or WASD, meaning that both camps will be satisfied.
However, that is the only good thing I have to say about Omegaland’s controls, which are stiff and unresponsive. Attempting to jump around a corner to reach a block directly above the player is a monstrously frustrating experience; there’s a mere instant to make the jump without hitting your head or falling down. This is a fairly standard platformer maneuver, and one that Omegaland expects frequently, so it’s quite annoying that it’s so desperately hard to do. The game’s camera also follows the player too aggressively to suit its zoom level, meaning that jumping can be a huge hassle in the first place; by the time you’ve reached the apex of your jump, the platform you’re jumping to is very often no longer on the screen, meaning that you have to take it on faith where your destination actually is. Meanwhile, since the game has no static background layers, and very few mobs, it’s quite difficult to tell how much you’ve moved once the blocks are no longer visible.
Hit detection is also unreliable. The primary means of attack in Omegaland, as in many platformers, is to jump on the mob. In Omegaland, though, it’s fairly common to land square on top of the mob and get hit anyway. Sometimes both the player and the mob will take the hit, but sometimes the mob will escape unscathed. In addition, there are blocks that can be hit from below (à la Super Mario Bros.) to make items appear; in Omegaland, the block itself despawns when this happens. This is fine in and of itself, but the behavior is inconsistent; sometimes the player still bounces off as though he’d hit a solid object, and sometimes the player passes through as though the block were never there. It is not a good thing when the player can’t know what his jump will actually do!
In the end, I’m sorry to report that Omegaland is just not a very good game. Its copious technical and design flaws render the gameplay insufficient to redeem its insulting, middle-school communist ranting, and even the cute aesthetic — its primary selling point — is eventually abandoned in favor of a gimmick that’s been done better in a number of other games. My recommendation is that you play Eversion or Axiom Verge and let this one pass into the dustbin of game development history. As such, I can award it but a single People’s Glorious Revolutionary Hairdo. Perhaps one day Bernie will correct this injustice by redistributing some of the hairs from my other reviews.
Omegaland is available for $2.99 from Steam, if for some reason you want to pay money for it. But as we all know, it should be free!