KOI marks the first Chinese-developed game to be released in the Western market on the PlayStation 4. Akin to the PlayStation 3 classic Flower developed by Thatgamecompany, KOI is more about the ethereal journey and experience than complex game mechanics. In Chinese culture, Koi, a type of fish, symbolizes trials that individuals often encounter in life, while also bringing good fortune and prosperity. Having an energetic life force, Koi defy the laws of nature, demonstrated by frequently swimming against water currents and traveling upstream.
Players are immersed in water-filled environments, such as fast moving streams, peacefully creeks, grimy sweaters, and tranquil ponds littered with lily pads. Being an art history major, the game’s stylized and simplistic visuals immediately bring back to memories of hours spent studying Eastern woodblock prints, such as one of my favorite pieces of all time, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (although that represents Japanese artwork). Besides directing your koi to the end of each level, KOI features some light puzzle solving, and hidden collectibles. Along your zen-like journey, you’ll come across other colored koi, smaller than yourself, that must be guided to a corresponding flower on top of a floating lilypad. Sporadically, you'll come across a branch or a gate blocking your path, and you must find the required colored koi to progress to the next section a level.
In some of the levels, the branches are interactive, requiring you to play a simple memory game in the same style of the popular kid’s toy Simon, sans the four different colors. The waters do hold dangers that must be avoided, although KOI doesn’t feature any diminishing health, giant fish will hunt the titular koi with a vision cone more akin to stealth games than an audiovisual experience. If spotted, the enemy will dart towards you with precision and speed. If you are hit, you won’t die, but instead, you’ll become immobilized for a few seconds before regaining control. Any koi that you were escorting will scatter, forcing you to locate them before moving on. It’s more of an annoyance than anything, especially if you are only trying to finish a level. Certain levels task you with fighting strong currents simultaneously, and being unable to move may see your little koi floating in the wrong direction.
Although KOI is not an overly long game, it can be completed in under two hours, attempting to collect all of the puzzle pieces and stars add to the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed rushing through a fast moving current striving to collect a tucked away puzzle piece or star half hidden by a water lily. However, KOI’s journey fails flat during the game’s climax. The final stage takes on a mystical and cosmic theme but replaces the tight quarters of a stream with a wide open lake beneath a beautiful starry night. The gameplay doesn’t evolve, and you’ll find yourself doing the same thing throughout, albeit in different size environments.
Dotoyou should be applauded for developing the first game released on the PlayStation 4 in the Western market. However, the experience feels half-baked at times. The soundtrack is breathtaking but at the same time, the repeated chorus portions drag on way too long. Collecting puzzle pieces completes paintings that tell a story, but I never had the drive to find them all. There are unlockable koi to replace the original orange colored one, but I just don’t think it is a journey that I would want to experience more than once.
Note: The KOI review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided for review.