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'Oquonie' Review: a beautiful land of confusion (iOS)

by Jillian Werner

March 10 2014

Oquonie is an abstract puzzle game that's more about the journey than the solution. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

You begin Oquonie as a dinosaur in a business suit. Or maybe an alpaca, emu, or giraffe calf—some type of lovable, long-necked creature with bug-eyes befitting a children's cartoon. Your world is a claustrophobic, isometric maze in black and white that provides no explanation of how or why you are there. But since it appears to be an office, and you appear to be an executive, you set out in search of busywork.

Your actions are limited. You can only walk in one of four directions, one step at a time. You can read or collect specific objects by walking into them. The rooms you travel are cramped and crowded, but most items adorning the landscape are decorations that jostle when bumped into and do nothing more. In one room, a triceratops concentrated on a paper-like graphic mumbles gibberish. Another room contains a printer with the same graphic floating above it like a thought bubble. You begin to put the pieces together.

This office area is mostly a tutorial that sets the stage for the rest of Oquonie. You'll never be told what to do, how to do it, or why you're doing it. You'll run into a variety of creatures, ranging from robbed rabbits to winterized owls, but they all speak a three-character graphical language that is a puzzle all to itself. As you progress, through exploration and random trial-and-error, you'll slowly begin to understand this fairy tale world and its modes—to a point.

That's because this world is technically impossible, but not illogical. Doorways lead to different locations depending on the direction they are entered, but those locations never vary; paths shut closed behind you and reopen as you make a complete circle by walking straight; whole realms exist beyond a single stairwell. It's a world you'll have to wander multiple times to get the hang of, but one you could still accurately capture in a map.  

A hand-drawn map would come in handy, because Oquonie doesn't give you one. There are impressions of maps in each area of the game—a pyramid of triangles in the sandy beach world, a series of zigzags in the starlit classroom—but these are yet another type of language with no immediate translation.

The actual language used by the characters scattered about the landscape is equally indecipherable at first glance, but ultimately not impenetrable; certain symbols will appear repeatedly and begin to make sense. An elaborate archway seems to indicate "door," while images of certain animals hint at what you need to become to progress through those doors.

That's right: become. As you wander around somewhat aimlessly, mentally mapping what leads where, you'll come across creatures that offer animal glyphs you can take along. Collecting three of the same glyphs will turn your dinosaur into that creature. Most areas will only open for their respective animal, so this transformation becomes key to progress. 

It's also the primary puzzle in Oquonie. Although the world itself and your role in it is one giant puzzle, most unstated goals revolve around finding animal glyphs in the correct order. Each of the five animal-specific worlds are accessible from a main hub and must be traversed at least two times apiece in order to move forward. This means you'll be seeing a lot of the same locations, but Oquonie's unique logic and gorgeously detailed woodblock artwork prevent repeat visits from being too tedious.

Even though the mazelike world is finite, with no specific directions it's easy to become lost and unsure of what to do next. It's the kind of challenge that could easily push you towards a walkthrough or guide, but is most enjoyable without one. There's no timer or pressure, no death or fail state. There is a way to "beat" the game, but even this doesn't end the experience: your dino-rabbit-bird-being can continue to wander the doorways and corridors endlessly, finding more secrets and endearing touches, like a sixth animal transformation that is too enjoyable to spoil.

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Although very different in execution, the experience of Oquonie is reminiscent of Fez: both present highly unique, almost incomprehensible worlds that make no excuses for themselves. They exist—and have seemingly always existed—as presented, and are not designed with one-to-one explanations to reality in mind. Their logic and language could be the source of an entirely separate game, but merely act as fully fleshed out (but not explained) backdrops to the world designed to explore. Oquonie is built for the visitor's enjoyment, but like the third dimension in Fez or the rabbit-hole-world in Alice in Wonderland, it lives and breathes even when we're not looking.

  • Oquonie
  • Developer: David Mondou-Labbe
  • Platform: iOS
  • Price: $2.99
  • In-app purchases? No

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