Oscura review - spooky, simple, and challenging

Earlier this month, an abstract Android title by MTV called Oscura slashed its price in half, and continues to rank highly among the top paid games in Google Play. Oscura has a minimal, silhouetted style that bears a striking similarity to an indie PC game Limbo, not that that's a bad thing - it suits mobile wonderfully.  

The premise is a little on the fairy tale side, yet doesn't stop the game from being tense or downright scary at times. There's a lighthouse that keeps dark creatures at bay. One day it explodes and the impish keeper, Oscura, has to run out, collect the scattered light shards and restore protection to the lands. Of course, with the lighthouse out of commission, it leaves the doors wide open for red-eyed monsters to roam freely, making Oscura's repair mission a fair bit more challenging. 

Gameplay

Oscura is a platformer with one notable twist. Sometimes you can't dodge monsters or obstacles quickly enough, which is why with a swipe Oscura can slow down time. There's a limited gage on how long the ability lasts, which is gradually refilled as a player picks up more shards of light that are scattered throughout a level.

Oscura.

Besides that, Oscura has a different (but still intuitive) control scheme. Holding a finger on one side of the screen causes Oscura to run in that direction, and a tap on the opposite side causes him (it?) to jump. Tapping again while in mid-air enables a double-jump, while simultaneously tapping both sides allows for leaps from a stand-still. If that's too crazy for you, there's a toggle in the game's menu that enables more traditional virtual buttons. 

Players are scored based on speed, number of light shards collected, number of deaths, and how many rare gears players find. Getting a full four stars on any given level can be tricky considering how easy it is to die, and often gears are hidden in tricky spots, which offers significant replay value. Still, a high score is rarely enough to keep me interested in a game over the long term - hidden unlockables, such as a new character or extra levels would be great additions and keep me playing after blowing through the game's 12 stages. 

Graphics/audio

Oscura.

Oscura earns high marks for its art direction. The stark silhouettes punctuated occasionally by color makes for a surreal and enjoyable experience. Animations are convincing and organic, especially among the monsters which lurk, swoop, and otherwise attack Oscura. The game manages to do so with relatively sparse details, which takes some serious skill. 

Oscura.

Even the menu system is bare-bones; after tapping through a single splash screen, players are taken to the chapter select screen, which shows only levels and the highest score rating to date. There aren't any options menus, in-app purchases, ads, nothing. Even the in-game menu only offers an exit to chapter select, control toggle, and audio toggle. The simplicity is quite refreshing. 

The soundtrack and sound effects fit the mood wonderfully, but it would be nice to see a wider variety of soundtracks. Games like Contre Jour have shown how influential music can be in games, and Oscura's emphasis on setting would certainly benefit from a similar treatment.

The good

  • Excellent art style
  • Challenging gameplay

The bad

  • Few levels
  • No unlockables

Conclusion

A dollar gets player a mere 12 levels, which might not be enough for hardcore gamers, but those interested in a rich, short experience will be very happy with Oscura. The platformer is plenty challenging and exploring the bizarre, dark fantasy world quickly becomes an engrossing experience. 

For a buck, this is a great deal, just keep in mind that the pricing is for a limited time, and may jump back up to $1.99 any day now. 

Download: Oscura

 

Reader comments

Oscura review - spooky, simple, and challenging

7 Comments

How is "No unlockables" a bad thing I'd much rather be able to access everything than have to pay something to unlock other bits also you can tell from the chapter screen that every level is an unlockable ")

And it looks like one of those games that the dev can keep upgrading and adding new levels on like angry birds

Yeah, I was wondering that too. I can't stand "in-app purchases", it essentially means you are not buying an app but an unfinished product with hidden additional requirements.

I'm assuming he means unlockables in the more traditional video game sense. E.G. "get a high score on level X and unlock a new character/level/challenge/soundtrack/whatever", as opposed to "in app purchases"

right so in this sense its like temple run where if you collect enough coins you can unlock new abilities and people. Its just a shame these days that most apps tend to go for the in app purchases for such things instead of rewarding people who play the game enough

I like the way Major Mayhem handled this. The game is free. You can unlock every item (weapon/powerup/costume) with the coins you earn but it's a bit of a grind (IMO a fun one). You can buy a pack of coins like most games, OR, for $1 you can buy a "coin doubler" which makes the grinding significantly easier and more like a traditional game without in-app purchases. So... for free you can play the whole game but it might get a little frustrating, or you can pay $1 to make the game more exciting. I think that's doing it right.

Yep, that's exactly what I meant. And I agree, it's too bad most devs automatically fold IAPs into that structure. If it works (such as with Major Mayhem), super, but it shouldn't be a given.