When the big ticket blurb for your game is the fact that it’s the first Chinese-developed PlayStation 4 game to receive a worldwide release, it’s both a great example of the wonders of globalization and a bit of a warning sign. Games with really capable gameplay usually boast about that gameplay in their blurbs; games with really great stories will focus on that. If the best you’ve got is the place where your game was developed, you might be in trouble.
With that out of the way, we’re going to take a look at KOI, the aforementioned Chinese-developed PlayStation 4 game. Are our blurb-based fears warranted?
KOI has you controlling the titular fish, swimming through stages and occasionally solving simple puzzles. You’ve got a wide and varied array of moves to help you navigate dangerous waters, and by that I mean you can move and sometimes press an action button. It’s a fairly easy game to understand and you should be swimming like a pro in a minute or two. You’re never in any real danger throughout; you can be stunned briefly by enemy attacks or environmental hazards, but you can’t actually die, so as long as you keep on swimming you’re going to make it through. Your foes include giant black fish that rely on cones of vision to track you down, adding a bit of a stealth element to the gameplay (even if being “caught” is essentially harmless)
Your main goal is to help flowers bloom by steering appropriately colored fish over to them, making sure to keep those fish out of danger lest you’re forced to go find them again. Doing so helps clear pollution out of the surrounding water, repeatedly doing so clears levels, repeatedly doing that clears the game. It won’t take long; KOI’s surprisingly short for a game released on the PlayStation 4 rather than the Vita or mobile devices, and you should be able to complete it in around an hour and a half or so. If you’d like to explore a bit more you can also dig up collectibles, but I didn’t find it especially compelling to repeat levels and find things that I missed.
KOI’s overall theme – HUMANS ARE BAD! NATURE IS GOOD! – is a little preachy and delivered with about as much tact and subtlety as your average episode of Captain Planet. Scary-looking pollution is everywhere! It’s intruding on the beauty of nature! Your enemies are just misguided, driven to rage by evil human chemicals! On the other hand, it’s a very nice-looking game that won’t offend the eyes for the short time you’ll be playing it. As mentioned, the controls are very simple and you’re never actually in any danger, so it’s an easy game that anyone can make it through as well.
KOI isn’t a complete disaster, though $8 is a bit much for such a short experience. It’s cute and makes a good impression, suggesting that positive results could come from future Chinese gaming localization, perhaps something with a bit more depth. Without getting into the quality of the Instant Game Collection releases on PlayStation Plus over the past year or two, I’d say it’s likely that we’ll see KOI released for free via that program before too long, so it might be best to wait until then. But once you can land it for (relatively) free, KOI is fresh enough to warrant a look.