Omno review – Journey to another world
Inspired by Journey and created by just one man, this new indie exploration game is the perfect palette cleanser between bigger titles.
Since Ico emerged on PlayStation 2 at the turn of the millennium, there’s been a healthy sub-genre of exploration games where nobody speaks, and even if they did, you’d never be able to understand them. Journey and Abzû are two such titles, cited as inspirations by one-man developer Jonas Manke, who designed and coded Omno entirely on his own, funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.
As in Journey, you’re a loan wanderer of unspecified alien pedigree, set loose in a giant landscape. This time though, you’re not entirely without guidance, because unlike many in this sub-genre you do at least understand the written word. Scanning glyphs on special obelisks gives you gnomic statements about your quest, handily informing you that you’re a Staffbearer and that you’re on a pilgrimage.
This involves finding orbs of light, which are scattered around each of the game’s open areas. Some are on high platforms, others on columns or cliffs, with each needing a little platform hopping or light puzzle solving to reach and collect. As you progress, you’ll also unlock skills to help you navigate the spacious landscapes.
The first of these is a dash, which lets you traverse larger gaps than your jump alone. You can use it as frequently as you like, and it regularly comes into play as you’re finding your way across multiple series of platforms. The next is a hoverboard, which works like the sand surfing in Journey, albeit much easier and a little faster, with the last being a short-range teleport.
You’ll need combinations of those skills to find all the orbs, and once you’ve collected three in a given area you unlock a final puzzle, the solution to which pours light into a portal that sends you to the next area. These puzzles get steadily more testing, and while none is likely to baffle you for hours, some take a reasonable amount of trial, error, and thought. Fortunately, they all have nearby clues embedded in the scenery and make logical sense once you work out what you need to do.
As well as puzzling, the game delights in showing off its biomes, which take in the usual desert and ice worlds, via more temperate climes. But despite the generally lo-fi graphics, there are plenty of spectacular views, lovingly taken in by the camera when you arrive somewhere new, and additionally showcased as you fly or ride a titanic beast between levels.
Omno also instils a profound sense of loneliness. Journey’s PlayStation 4 re-release made it possible to team up with other players. In Omno it’s just you, a situation accentuated by the melancholy ambient music that accompanies your exploration, adding to the sense of wonder. Whether it’s distant mountains, huge flying jellyfish, or creatures playfully frolicking in the wake of your hoverboard, there’s a lot to see on your holy trek.
As well as puzzles, platforming, and sightseeing, you can also catalogue the plants and animals that inhabit each part of the world. Walking up to a beast or flower, you can use your staff to get it to shed little chunks of collectible light. Doing so will also add its picture and name to your bestiary, which gives you a couple of sentences on each of the planet’s inhabitants you interact with.
Speaking of collecting, you’re actively encouraged to see absolutely everything in a biome before decamping for the portal. By holding up your staff, you can see what percentage or the level you’ve completed, and the direction of any remaining points of interest. It’s a level of handholding that can feel like mollycoddling, but Omno is far less about difficulty level than it is about enjoying your gentle and unhurried ride through its world. Hanging around to uncover every last detail is perfectly in keeping with this ethos.
Like RiME, another wordless game with interesting puzzles, set in a pastel-hewn world of its own invention, just wandering and looking for puzzle clues in its environment is a pleasure all in itself. You can die – mostly be drowning or falling off cliffs – but it’s not something that happens often, and you’re not punished for it.
As gaming gets more mainstream and attracts an increasingly broad cross section of the population, tiles like this, which don’t rely on the usual tropes of violence or competition, broaden video games’ appeal, letting those less used to holding a joypad experience some of what makes the hobby so alluring. Omno may not get your heart racing, but its mellow and continually scenic sense of pioneering and puzzle solving is as inclusive an experience as gaming gets.
Omno review summary
In Short: The debt to Journey is very obvious but the single-player exploration and puzzle solving of Omno still has an entrancing quality of its own.
Pros: Atmospheric, mellow, and inspiring an agreeable sense of discovery, you can see everything it has to offer in four-ish hours.
Cons: Neither as whimsical nor as polished as Journey. Strictly linear and some may find its level of hand-holding intrusive.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Developer: Studio Inkyfox
Publisher: Studio Inkyfox
Release Date: 29th July 2021
Age Rating: 3
By Nick Gillett
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