Elton John is one of the most underappreciated philosophers of our time. When he wrote Circle of Life for The Lion King, he had to change the lyrics to be more Disney-focused. His original notes commented on how sounds blend, the importance of shapes, and various references to geometry, Aikido and Ouroboros.
Of course, I’m being facetious – the song was never about that and was a diss track calling out the Wu-Tang Clan, but I’m just stalling as I don’t know how to write this Onde review. Like – at all. If you have the patience of diarrhoea, let me save you the waffle and say that this is an eargasm of a game. It’s insane. But… there are some ‘complications’ along the way.
The reason why I can’t quite articulate my thoughts is that I don’t know how to write about music. Here’s a revelation: music is my greatest passion, not gaming. However, how do you encapsulate those feelings in a lucid yet coherent manner? The Fortnite gamers have already switched off to this, as I’m sure you will. I told you I was struggling with this write-up.
In Onde (by Lance, 3-50, and Mixtvision), there’s no specific narrative, but you go on a journey, and it’s a linear one. You play an abstract shape that incorporates four smaller forms that independently connect with ‘sound flowers’ as you pass them. Pressing one of four buttons, a circular sound wave vibrates, and you have to ‘ride’ the waves. You can only connect with the outer circumference, and as the game progresses, colour is introduced and catapult mechanics.
When we’re introduced to Onde, we receive drone-like parts and slide down an audible slinky. Remember: you can’t leave these outer lines, and if you do, through a manner of drifting when a sound bubble dissipates, you return to the place you died. There is no death as such, health or specials. Nor is there any text in the game, making it a little frustrating.
A sound plays along to your actions effortlessly and gracefully blend into the soundtrack with each movement. I really can’t express how amazing this is. You can even randomly press the buttons without any gameplay function other than making musical notes. Yes, it is very meditative, and while the soundtrack is the standout, the visuals in the game are lovely. But let’s touch on that frustrating element before that idea disappears.
While you can’t die as such, you will have to repeat small sections without any explanations whatsoever, expect some problem-solving. The vast majority of the time, it will be a case of understanding what is expected of you, but there are no loading times, and the game is seamless throughout.
In a very early scene, I had to transfer from one sound wave to another but would constantly respawn as I’d hit a shape in the centre of the screen, or the sound wave/bubble would carry me off-screen. This became irritating, and there are also sections where you’re expected to fail until you learn the patterns.
Games are naturally frustrating based on difficulty, but this somewhat counters the feels in Onde. As mentioned, it’s very meditative and calming, but when you stumble upon some challenge, it can be unpleasant. Several times I wanted to give up, but guess what? That music carried me through.
In a nutshell, the music design in Onde is a masterpiece. I would never actively listen to the soundtrack in the car or when procrastinating between jobs which I often do. That said, it’s flawless. The build-up, reactions to your behaviour on screen, and that way it evokes a mood – not in the sense of a girly cry, but the genuine feeling of energised and upbeat was splendid. Of course, it’s subjective, but the sound design is straight out of a masterclass.
How long does it take to beat Onde, though? Hhmmm. It took me just over three hours, which involved hitting a few walls along the way. As mentioned, the game had this uncanny ability to make everything serene, then with a handful of the mechanics, unsettle me – and I tend to have a lot of patience. Can I recommend it? Yes. It’s a small game, and the experience does feel like a cerebral journey. While the visuals are very nice – especially when the colour is introduced, the score needs to be felt, heard and experienced.
I guess I could find the words after all.