I was kind of hoping we'd forget to do the Review Contest this year. I always enjoy doing it and everyone's always had really nice things to say about my reviews... and the not-so-nice things have lead to fun arguments. Win-win!
The past year hasn't been as much fun. Real-life has forced me into a lot more responsibilities and as much as I love reviewing, I don't want to write one that starts "This game was so good, I let my grandparents starve to death", but then again, that August 14th deadline is looking pretty generous. I guess I'm roped in again.
Things are going to be a little different this time, though. I've been freed of my compulsion to do whatever a wheel tells me, so my apologies if anyone is expecting another random review picker. I'll probably go through the list alphabetically, unless something grabs my fancy or seems like a logical next step. A lot of stuff is going to be the same. I've refined my formula about as much as I intend to. In my reviews, I aim to offer criticism that will:
A) Help the author make the best games he possibly can, by guessing what they were trying to accomplish and judging whether or not they were succesful
B) Use the game as an example to other game designers, so they can avoid mistakes and learn lessons and also generally be the best they can be
C) Inform the game-playing audience, rare as they might be, whether or not the game in question is worth their time.
So, of course, we have to start things off with a game that makes meeting that criteria as difficult as possible. This ends the autobiographical portion of the review.
Andy and Ollie Save Christmas is a game by Soda Piggy. It's his first solo effort, so I should be gentle. Except he's collaborated with oodles of people and he's got talent coming out the wazoo, so I should really stick it to him. Then again, he released the game on Christmas and you should never be too judgemental towards a gift. Long story short, it's a really good game with a few problems that keep it from being exceptionally great.
The entire story is laid out in the opening cutscene: Santa burned himself on some hot chocolate and can't deliver the presents this year. His adorable helper elves, the eponymous Andy and Ollie, step in to save the day. This is a great scene. It instantly establishes the game's style. In four simple textboxes (with awesome backdrops) it tells you everything you need to know and then gets the hell out of the way. My only complaint is that the opening scene is cooler than the finale.
Now the game's afoot. You've got fifteen minutes to raise enough Christmas Cheer to save the holidays and three stages to choose from. You can tackle them in any order, but this isn't Megaman. You're not obligated to play all three of them, and you're definitely going to have to repeat them more than once to raise enough cheer.
Gameplay is very basic. The sleigh flies itself in a straight line, and you watch for houses. The A, S and D buttons correspond to Green, Red and Yellow presents respectively. Pressing any button drops a present, and you match the house's color to the color of the presents.
You can't accelerate, brake, or otherwise move the sleigh in any way, so it all boils down to timing. Hit a house correctly to make progress towards the quota (25 on Stage 1, 50 on Stage 2, 75 on Stage 3) and multiple correct hits will raise the combo meter (earning you extra cheer). Drop a present without hitting a house, drop the wrong colored present on a house, or skip a house and your combo resets to 0.
Once you've reached the quota, the level is over. Stats are shown for your biggest combo, how quickly you finished the level and how many presents you missed. These are factored together and Christmas Spirit is generated! Repeat the process until the Christmas Spirit bar is filled and you win!
The more difficult stages offer the opportunity to score longer combos, but add their own complications. Stage 1 contains simple houses of roughly the same size. Stage 2 adds larger buildings which require a little bit more precise timing, and also has hills in the foreground to make it harder to identify your targets. Stage 3 has even taller buildings, has some buildings whose color is only on the roof making it harder to tell at a glance AND adds clouds to the hills to make even more obstructions. It's entirely possible to not see a building at all, or at the very least not be able to discern what color it is and be forced to guess.
Andy and Ollie is a pretty forgiving game. Both times I've beaten it, I finished with about 5 minutes left. The repetition hurts the game a little. I was starting to get bored both times, too.
There's a bunch of ways to alleviate that, shortening the time limit, adding some kind of persistent high score to make the strive for the best combo more exciting, or going with a more traditional stage 1 -> stage 2 -> stage 3 -> you win! structure. But honestly, all of that would overkill for what this is: an awesome Christmas time-waster.
The only legitimate complaint I've got is the music. It's great, but the same 20 second clip repeats through the entire game. Doing the math real quick, 20 second clip, 15 minute game, means you're going to hear this thing 45 times in a row. No matter how good it is, that's going to get a little annoying. Even a second 20 second clip mixed in every now and then would go a long way.
I cannot overstate how impressive the graphics are. Screenshots look great, but it's so much better in motion, because there is so much motion. I'm jealous as hell of the candy cane themed transition between the stage select and the actual stage. The parallax effect on the levels is amazing too, especially in Stages 2 and 3. Andy and Ollie are super cute and t-shirts could be sold with the Santa spilling cocoa image. It's only the first review, and I'm already sure this is the prettiest game of 2016.
Again, I hate to overthink a Christmas present. It absolutely could be better in a few spots, but there's so many things done right, so many things done BEAUTIFULLY, really, that it's hard to quibble over the fact that there isn't much replay value. Plus, it actually made it out in time for Christmas, and without any major bugs or fatal flaws. That's something big companies still struggle with, so for one guy to get it right, major kudos. Don't wait till next Christmas, go ahead and play it now. It's AMAZING how good an OHR game can look. Just don't expect to still be playing it in December (Though that would be a good time to revisit it).
"Congratualtions" on the ending screen is my favorite "Congratulations" typo of all time. Even when this game gets stuff wrong, it does it nice.