With climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and much more, there are many environmental issues that we need to be concerned about. Video games usually don’t put these issues at the forefront. However, with titles such as Flower, Fate of the World, and now Koral, the medium is finally making some headway in covering global crises. With that in mind, just being environmentally themed is certainly not enough of a reason to recommend a game. Koral is a side-scrolling puzzle game focused on informing the audience about environmental issues occurring under the sea.
Koral is a video game equivalent of a dry, shallow documentary about the ocean and the problems that occur due to the impact of humans. One would expect such a title to be informative and hopefully somewhat mechanically engaging. However, Koral doesn’t manage to provide either of those qualities. It teeters between the line of edutainment and entertainment in such a way that it fails to satisfy those eager to learn more as well as those who just want to have an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, Koral disappoints in all sorts of ways, but especially when it comes to enriching the player’s knowledge on oceanic issues.
The sea is doing terribly. Koral acknowledges this and presents issues the sea is facing in the modern day. On top of that, the developer provides various collectibles to explicitly tell the audience what these issues are. Despite such efforts, however, Koral fails to go deep enough to genuinely inform the player. The collectibles present incredibly shallow bits of information that shed very little light on notably pressing matters. Besides that, the game presents the issues in the background with some subtlety, but in doing so, it also sidelines the information in favor of putting the shoddy gameplay first.
Koral slowly builds up its puzzle mechanics to test the player. To be frank, the additional mechanics make the gameplay more cumbersome than enjoyable or satisfying. The simple controls only make use of the two analog sticks for movement, thereby hindering any real mechanical depth from rising forth. Movement is slow and tedious, while the puzzles range from bland to bothersome. There’s never that heavily sought-after eureka moment that you’ll find in quality puzzle games, such as Portal or any good Legend of Zelda.
Initially, the game feels more like a 2D walking simulator under the sea. The rudimentary puzzles started off flowing decently well as a mindless gameplay fodder. However, as the mechanics started building up, the worse it got. Often times, the goal was to clear out pollution gates by gathering energy to bring coral back to life. It’s a gamey solution to a real problem that highlights the issue when it comes to science-based titles that require simple answers to complicated matters for the sake of gameplay.
As the game progressed, it only got more and more bland, repetitive, and uninteresting. The mid-to-late game mechanics really got on my nerves. One particularly unimaginative element literally just had you collect even more energy than you did before. With the addition of timed collection puzzles, there was a lot of running back and forth, which only highlighted the irritatingly slow movement speed. Beyond that, the game’s physics engine and mechanics design hamper the flow of movement.
Visually, Koral looks great at a first glance, but looking deeper in, it lacks polish. Many of the levels feel copy-pasted with the same groups of fish robotically swimming around. Admittedly, the superb lighting does a good job highlighting the beauty of the ocean. The background music is passable, but definitely feels generic and uninspired, and becomes quickly forgettable. On the surface, Koral captures a bit of the sea’s vast beauty, but beyond that, it’s a lifeless, uninspired, digital aquarium.
Koral is part science display, part puzzle game, and all design compromise. It feels like a roadmap on what not to do when designing an environmentally conscious game. Without a doubt, the visuals are initially captivating, but their flair quickly wears off and you’re left with the game’s dismal content. The game provides a clunky experience that doesn’t satisfy in any meaningful manner. Too shallow in both its educational content and puzzle-solving gameplay, Koral finds the perfect middle ground to embody an especially painful kind of mediocrity.