ibb & obb (2013)

True coop games are hard to come by. Many titles shoehorn in a coop experience, but rarely are games obviously and intentionally designed around having multiple players. ibb & obb is a game that must be played with two players, meaning that everything in the game was designed with that in mind. I thought I was going to play a simple and cutesy puzzle-platformer with my friend, and ibb & obb certainly started out that way.

In ibb & obb you play as two little blobs, unsurprisingly named ibb and obb. These little guys are pretty unremarkable, the only thing they can do is jump. Each level has a mix of platforming and puzzle challenges blocking the way forward. Some levels make use of new mechanics that change the landscape of the stage. You and your partner must assist and cooperate with each other, one player cannot simple carry the other. There are certain obstacles that require ibb, others that require obb. Moreover, both players need to complete the aforementioned challenges before moving on. Meaning one player completing a trick series of jumps is simply not enough.

The puzzles of ibb & obb generally utilize some augmentation of gravity. Whether it be reversed gravity, or using bouncy pads to store momentum and bounce higher, you are going to have to get used to a variety of new gimmicks that change the way the game plays. Most of these mechanics are welcome additions, as they can add fun little twists to the more traditional platforming puzzles. The game starts remarkably relaxed, there are few enemies, the jumps are forgiving, and the puzzles are simple. But as you progress through this short adventure, the levels build on each other and become increasingly difficult.

My friend and I began the game with the intention of finding all of the collectibles. Since the game was easy enough, we wanted to challenge ourselves by hunting down the shiny little orbs in every level. We quickly gave up on that goal once the levels started to become sadistic. Just beating each stage became challenging enough. What started as a chill and relaxing platformer suddenly became brutally difficult. The puzzles often required finnicky jumps and obtuse maneuvers. Many times, we would ask ourselves if what were doing was even the intended solution because it was so precise and time-consuming to pull off. But the more aggravating part of ibb & obb was when the platforming sections began to ramp up in difficulty.

A key aspect of the game is that when one player dies, you both die. You both need to pull off a platforming challenge simultaneously. This transforms any moderately difficult obstacle into something far more insidious. Using basic probability, let’s say there is a section that you can conquer one in every five attempts. When both partners need to complete that section in the same attempt, now you only have a one in twenty-five chance of success. You become significantly more unlikely to succeed when both players are required to complete the challenge on the same attempt.

This is an issue that is ingrained in the way the game was designed. The whole game is built around the fact that if one player dies, both players die. You rely on each other, so this mechanic cannot be simply stripped away without fundamentally changing the game. If I were to suggest a fix, it would be to keep the level design on the easier side. Difficulty quickly compounds when both players need to succeed at the same time. I think ibb & obb would have served better as a relaxing adventure through and through. Instead, it lures you with some calm and simple stages, then proceeds to ramp up the difficulty exponentially. 

Overall, I’m not sure that I can fully recommend ibb & obb. I enjoy the aesthetic of the game, and can definitely get behind a coop puzzle-platformer. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the game, but my friend and I grew frustrated with it quickly. By the time our journey came to an end, we were more than ready to move on, never looking back to collect whatever secrets lay hidden in each stage. Even as a fan of difficult games, I think having to rely on both players to succeed at the same time is a recipe for irritation. We had some fun moments with the ibb & obb, but ultimately it does not join the short list of “great coop experiences”.

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