Olo by Sennep recently slid into feature status in the game section of the App Store, promising a casual and minimalistic board game experience.
Olo takes a lot of inspiration from traditional board games like shufflepuck and crokinole, but adds a decidedly unique spin on things. Games are played online or locally with either 2 or 4 players. The goal is to get as many of your colored pucks into a goal area on your opponent's side. If you flick your olos too far and into your opponent's starting zone, he gets to keep the olo and fire it back at you on his turn.
Of course, you can always bump your opponent's olos out of the area on your side. Olos can be bounced back into your area to reuse, though you can only do that three times before an leaves play for good; that prevents matches from going for too long. Olos vary in size, which significantly changes their velocity and impact on other olos on the board, in addition to posing larger or smaller obstacles for your opponent to work around.
Olo's audio earns top marks. The menu music is this really classy jazz with a slightly surreal bent that you could honestly listen to all day on loop. I just wish it played during gameplay, or maybe something slightly different to mix things up. The olo pucks themselves make great xylophone sound effects on impact that vary in intensity depending on how hard they hit. The Retina-optimized graphics, though simple, are very sharp, minimalistic, and smooth. It's refreshing to see a game that manages to be fun without trying so hard to pull off crazy 3D models or insanely detailed textures. This also keeps the size down to 6.3 MB, which can be a godsend if you're running low on room with a 16 GB iOS device. Even the menu system is clean, pared-down, and colorful.
So, it looks pretty, but is it fun? Well, there are a few dampers. My first couple of rounds were plagued by full-blown crashes and and unresponsive multiplayer games - olos would zip to random locations after sliding across the board. From the sounds of other user reviews, I'm not the only one. After playing a little while more, things seemed to even out, but players would still drop out regularly in multiplayer matches during the initial matchmaking phase. That said, a single-player option versus AI would be great for those times you're outside of a coverage area and don't have any buddies around. The only real qualm I have with the game mechanics is that you can't use your entire starting zone to flick your olo; if your cross an invisible line that's too far to the left or right of the center, the game detects it as you letting go of the puck and you waste your turn. Not only is that unintuitive, but it also removes a lot of angles and limits the already shallow tactical depth of the game.
That's not to say the game isn't fun, though. There's a lot of nuance to the game, and the physics are accurate enough that you become acutely aware of how hard you're flicking your pucks across the screen. The slower pace also builds a fair bit of tension as you line up shots and watch your opponent do the same.
Olo features Game Center support to help you play with your buddies, and there's even voice chat; I could easily see myself shooting the breeze with friends and family over a casual game of Olo.It's also Universal, and plays just about as well on the iPhone as it does on the iPad. There aren't any saved games so to speak, so no worries about needing to sync anything over the cloud.
- Sharp, fresh graphics
- Familiar but new game mechanics
- Simplistic gameplay can get boring fast
- Some general instability
- No single-player versus AI
The bottom line
It's great to see design studios stepping into the gaming space, but it's clear that there's still a lot of work these guys need to do on the technical side to make Olo a real winner. Occasional game crashes and and glitchy online multiplayer performance can potentially ruin what would otherwise be a sublime experience. Still, I have high hopes that these problems will be patched up pretty quickly, mainly considering this is a brand new game and just came out yesterday. Olo is a fresh, original take on an old idea, and with a bit of polishing, I'm sure it will be a relaxing addition to any casual gamer's library.
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