Review: OCO – Zen And The Art Of Jumping Squares

There’s something to be said about games that manage to do a lot with a little. SPECTRUM48’s OCO is certainly one of those games, and it managed to keep me engaged with nothing but the press of a single button (or space bar in my case). It’s a minimalist precision platformer that relies heavily on using the space around you to maneuver through a spinning circular level to collect squares. 

Our protagonist, who is also just a square, can only do two things: Move forward in a singular direction, and jump. Jumping is the only thing you can control, however. Your little square buddy is pretty stubbornly set in its ways and will proceed to make its way around each level without stopping. If you want to go in another direction, simply bounce off of a wall! It’s a deceptively simple game that opens itself up to all sorts of complex mechanical possibilities as you progress through the game’s seven main worlds (and also some bonus worlds if you’re in the mood for a little extra challenge).

Each world in OCO consists of fifteen levels that are over relatively quickly, but the game’s ranking system gives you more of an incentive to optimize your runs by way of retrying. You gain bits for completing a level and additional bits for finishing said level within a certain amount of jumps or time limit. These points are used to unlock later worlds, which was never a problem and I had everything unlocked fairly early on. Each world also introduces a new gimmick to throw into the mix, like bounce pads or platforms that speed you up. By the final world all of these are mixed together in really interesting ways that creates these intricate little puzzles that require quick reflexes to overcome.

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OCO’s minimalism makes for some great atmosphere.

You can also spend a few of those bits to look at an optimal solution for each stage if you’re feeling stuck, but it’s still up to you to carry it out. It can get challenging, especially as they start throwing in more ways to die, but nothing ever feels insurmountable in OCO. One thing that really helped me while playing was to pay attention to the trail you leave behind while hitting certain blocks. I had a tendency to hit bounce pads the wrong way and overshoot whatever platform I was trying to land on, but the arc you leave behind can be used as a guide for how to approach the pad the next time around.

If a lot of this sounds familiar to you, it’s because you may have already played this game. OCO was originally released for iOS and Android platforms in 2019 which makes the game’s simple one-button approach make a lot more sense. I put a couple of hours into the iOS version to compare it to the PC port and it’s virtually identical aside from some in-app purchases like removing ads or buying bits. Having a game like this on the go is definitely appealing, but the PC version has its own benefits like a wider aspect ratio.

What makes OCO especially memorable for me, however, is its procedurally generated soundtrack. If you like ambient electronic beats, this game will definitely be up your alley. Everything from picking up squares to hitting bounce pads will add to the background ambience to create a personalized track for each level. And since your first run is bound to be imperfect, the accompanying track will be even more personalized. It’s a very rhythmic game that managed to continuously throw me into a zen-like state of focus, and I couldn’t stop playing for large chunks of time. There’s an addictive quality to OCO and the simplicity of its mechanics makes it easy to get sucked in.

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Sometimes the user-created levels are…overwhelming. (Credit: “Storm”, by Voltage)

If you’ve managed to finish the main game and still have a hankering for more, there are user-generated levels to sink your teeth into as well. There are tens of thousands of levels to explore, and a lot of the ones I played range from simple to downright masochistic. This is where players can absolutely push OCO’s mechanics to the absolute limit and create some dense, meticulous levels that have zero room for error. I could barely last a second in these levels but I can’t help but be amazed by just how much you can do with the tools given to you. The levels I created were terrible, by the way.

OCO may not be the most revolutionary game on the planet, but it absolutely revels in its simplicity. The minimalist art direction and moody electronic soundtrack elevates what is essentially just a collection of lines and squares spinning around in a circle, and the difficulty curve is smooth and never unfair in the main portion of the game. If you’re looking for something to get lost in for hours at a time without realizing it, this could be the game for you. Just watch out for the red blocks.

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