Sometimes you don’t need a sweeping narrative or a definite goal to keep you pressing on. Sometimes you just want to explore, to tinker and interact with the world around you. Ode tries to tap into the emotions of exploration, the world becoming a series of musical instruments for you to playfully tap as you find the central chord under it all.
Brush into an alien bush and the snare drum will react. Those flowers seem to be attached to a synth and the grass to a high-hat.
If you have ever played Undergarden or Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians you will have an idea of how powerful music, sound and just enjoying the world around you can be. In its quiet moments, it feels a lot like Undergarden as you slowly collect orbs and just enjoy running through plants to create a melody.
Just like Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, there is a build-up before you start to feel in control of the music happening all around you. Brush into an alien bush and the snare drum will react. Those flowers seem to be attached to a synth and the grass to a high-hat. This game has no guide, no map with arrows pointing out things to do or an EXP bar that fills every time you do the correct task. You are Ode, a little floating vaguely humanoid thing inside an energy ball with a cheeky bum. As you travel around the world you will find little orbs that once you touch them or dislodge them from piles of rocks. These orbs trail after you and can be used to help with movement-based puzzles or to activate certain structures in the world. Feed enough hungry pseudopods an orb and the central object/creature/thing will come to life, rousing all of the nearby plants to play their music. All those high-hats you were rolling over earlier? Now they are playing in time, creating a melody without you having to make music on your own.
Joie de vivre
Eventually, you will activate everything in the world that you are in (or at least enough to satisfy the hungry objects around you, and your garden will come to life with light and sounds. Music and movement fill the air and for a while you will find yourself sitting and watching the plants, feeling like a conductor of this assortment of music and colour. At this point you can leave your garden, flying to a new world with new sounds and tricks, or enjoy collecting orbs while you enjoy your track and add flourishes to it, it is all up to you.
Ode isn’t just about music, as colour plays an important part too. In your basic state, you operate like a hamster in a plastic ball, rolling around the world. Your jump height and distance is affected by the speed you are moving at and the surface you are on, so make sure you are on rocks instead of sand when jumping for those hard to reach collectables and secret rooms. Sometimes you need to make several high but precise jumps and the speed needed to reach those heights becomes a pain. Luckily Ode is pretty receptive to the elements around him and patches of coloured water will change the way he moves around. Put Ode in some orange and suddenly you are leapfrogging instead of rolling around and your jumps are pretty impressive. Now you can pogo-jump from butte to butte, accessing some otherwise difficult to reach sections of the map.
Ode on Solitude
The colour change doesn’t just affect your locomotion and jumping but also changes how the orbs behave when you fling them away from you to activate distant hungry pseudopods. Sometimes they roll along, while in another mode they shoot out like shotgun pellets. You can draw them back in, forming a whirlwind around you and tugging at nearby objects. It also felt like there was no way to truly lose an orb as the range on your attraction seems to be the same as the size of the world, meaning you can have fun shooting orbs out and then summoning them back later, feeling like Magneto with metal orbiting him.
Spanning four worlds, Ode isn’t the longest of games, especially if you just zip from place to place in a goal-oriented manner. Where it shines is in the quiet moments that you go exploring for secrets, or just enjoy running through the same section of mushrooms again and again to make some music. If you want to play a game that isn’t about doing things as quickly as possible or as violently as possible, where you set your own pace and goals and just enjoy some music and pretty lights, Ode might be the creative oasis you need to go rest at. At least I think it is an oasis. Is this an alien world, or the insides of a massive creature? Ode, similar to Grow Up, explores a single theme: the joy of interacting with the environment and it will calm your nerves and leave you with a smile.