Release date: October 28, 2015
The development of Albert & Otto is a bit of an underdog story. As a game that drew frequent comparisons to other indie titles, developer KBros Games had a tough time with funding, with their Kickstarter campaign failing to meet its goal. Despite this, they were able to continue development and the world is a better place because of it. The end result is a game filled with intelligent puzzles, difficult platforming, and a beautifully-stylized world.
Before I begin, let’s just get the inevitable comparison out of the way. On the surface Albert & Otto looks exactly like the 2011 game Limbo by Playdead. There’s no getting around that. The first half hour was a sense of déjà vu as I was dropped into a grayscale world filled with macabre undertones. But once Albert collects Otto, the game quickly differentiates itself as a strong puzzle/platformer that stands apart from its visual doppelganger.
The minimalist tale is simple. A smoke monster kidnaps Albert’s sister and he and the rabbit Otto set off to find her. However, the story hints at being more complex than what’s currently being let on, so I’m going to be skeptical of everything that is presented:
1. Is Anna actually Albert’s sister? The information regarding the relationship is given to us in the game’s synopsis, but I didn’t catch anything in-game that confirms this. I wonder if K Bros Games are going to distort the convention of a Damsel in Distress, perhaps in a manner similar to Braid?
2. What is Otto? Otto is Anna’s stuffed bunny. It seems simple enough until you realize that Otto can produce electrical currents and give Albert the power to double jump and levitate small items. That doesn’t sound like any stuffed animals I know, and the ending shows that there’s more to Otto than we know.
3. Is Albert a good guy? Albert is a much more violent offender than I initially expected. Unlike other games of note, our hero comes armed and is willing to take down anything in his path. Not to mention the fact that he dislikes sheep in the extreme. Albert feeds the adorable wool factories to wolves and piranhas, lights them on fire for various uses, and uses their corpses as rafts. These choices amongst the other portions of the game don’t have me inherently believing Albert’s righteous adventure.
The setting of the game is pre-World War II Germany, which will likely factor into the story much more strongly as the game goes on. However, the first episode doesn’t utilize this to any meaningful degree. We’re left with a cliffhanger ending that hints at a more complex narrative in future episodes, but there’s not enough to go on to make any educated guesses on what that might entail.
As the game begins Albert has naught but his ability to jump and shoot things, but after each section a new skill is added to the mix. Soon, with the help of Otto, puzzle-solving becomes a combination of platforming, shooting, levitating and utilizing Otto’s electrical capabilities.
The strong puzzles are central to the enjoyment of the game. Although I was stumped several times trying to decide the positioning of Otto and the movements of Albert, I was never frustrated. The difficulty is raised at a comfortable pace and most players will enjoy moving these companions through ever more complex scenarios.
While some of the solutions may seem unconventional (see lighting sheep on fire), they do eventually present themselves through trial-and-error.
The platforming has a much less forgiving difficulty curve. Up until a particular section where Albert and Otto are rafting down a cave, the game is fairly simple. But at this one stage the game begins requiring complex jumping and aiming, something made very difficult by low sensitivity for the in-game mouse. Perhaps those playing with Xbox controllers will have an easier time, but the wonky mouse had me dying for much tighter controls.
It’s worth noting that the developers have mentioned there may be slight lag for computers that aren’t up to par. I was playing this on a rig that met the minimum requirements for the game and did not experience any of the reported lag in running, jumping or anything of that nature. My concern was only with the mouse, which lacked the high sensitivity I’ve grown accustomed to in PC games. I cannot say with one hundred-percent confidence that it wasn’t the identified lag, so if this is a system concern, consider my complaints null and void .
The game also features enjoyable but formulaic boss battles. If you’re a fan of rafts and giant serpents, I’ve got some great news for you, as the game graces us with a second river section that contains both.
As you'd expect, the audio is quintessential background music. The first song adequately establishes the moody environment, but later songs (including a great acoustic guitar piece and a German choral piece reminiscent of Germany’s current national anthem) bring more personality to the game.
The color scheme of Albert & Otto is extraordinarily appealing. While it may be following in Limbo’s footsteps, the inclusion of the dark red Otto brings a surprising amount of dynamic energy to the screen. Given the time period and the choices regarding the red character, it evokes (purposefully or not) the girl in the red dress from Schindler’s List. We’ll have to wait until later episodes to see whether or not this is a coincidence that has any symbolic bearing on the story.
The animals throughout Albert & Otto are also a testament to the developer's great sense of design. The sheep are bulbous and have a sense of 3-Dimensional graphics that isn’t reflected in the sharper and flatter wolves. While it speaks for itself that the sheep would be Albert’s prey and the wolf would be his predator, it was a nice touch to see these characteristics utilized in the art design of the animals.
Albert & Otto gets top marks for requiring players to utilize a wide arsenal of skills for both platforming and puzzles. In addition, the ambience of the game is perfectly realized through the minimalist design, and it would be easy to see a complex narrative develop from the story's simple beginning. However, a steep difficulty curve late in the game will frustrate many players, as will the loose mouse controls, which can throw off even the simplest maneuvers. Overall, though, it’s hard to deny that KBros Games has crafted a solid start to this series, even if a few sheep had to be killed to get there.
+ Clever puzzles
+ Ambiguous narrative
+ Otto's visual design
- Sharp difficulty increase for platforming
- Loose controls