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Ode review

Ode is a musical exploration game, which is a bit like saying ET is a movie about missing your flight. Ode is music and exploration. Somehow, they are separate and yet entirely intertwined.

You play as a chubby little sprite of some kind, snugly encased in a crystal marble. You spawn in a burst of bloomy white light in what looks like a frozen cave, chill grey sand covering the floor, bright little chunks of rock – volcanic maybe, glossy and black and shot through with glitter – poking through here and there. As you roll around, the audio seems to shift and sigh, almost imperceptibly. You bounce off rocks – because why not? – and you are rewarded, if you listen closely, with flat little taps of a drum. You are rewarded if you listen closely, sure, but maybe the real reward comes from not listening closely, because if you just move, prodding forward, now a rock, now a rippled stretch of sand, you will not notice the music that is slowly building itself around you, and then you will suddenly discover that you are humming it, almost like it came from you and not from the game.

Soon there are spongey discs to roll over, bright balloons bursting from them as you pass. Soon there are fronds hanging from the walls that release showers of pink blossom. There are fallen stars – little golden balls that have buried themselves in the ground – to gather as you nudge them. They form threading pathways through the game’s tight, but sometimes complex, spaces, like Mario’s coins. And as you collect them, they trail behind you, bouncing, or can be flung into the distance, where they rattle around, a cheery, physics-driven motley, before you draw them back in again.

Everything has a sound that fits its strange appearance. Everything tinkles or groans or beeps or skitters. And then you find yourself in a larger cave, with a huge green mass in the center, an organic lump emerging from the ground. Scattered around you are smaller green lumps, and if you hit each one with one of your trailing stars – flinging it, getting it on the rebound, or even just trundling over it – that green lump will turn to gold. Once they are all gold, the central mass ignites and the music you have been making starts to truly cohere. The path ahead becomes clear and the whole thing repeats, with variations, until the end.