Playing Koral left me feeling ambivalent. It is safe to say that Koral is best approached as a “zen game” in that it is a visually appealing yet simple game good for relaxation. Its dazzling graphics and mundane puzzle gameplay co-exist in discord. This game will only be a good fit for some and that’s okay.
The seascapes in Koral are incredibly detailed with a tangible sense of depth. Underwater critters will pass from the blurry foreground, into your side scrolling play area, and eventually into the depths behind you. You can tell the creator really cares about the environment and is well versed on how to make ocean plants’ and creatures’ movements look organic. This is Koral’s biggest strength. The accompanying music is chill and appropriately atmospheric.
The pro environmental messages in Koral are heavy handed, though I think this appropriately reflects the seriousness of the associated issues and hazards in real life. Text will occasional explains the impact of humans on ocean life such as coral bleaching hazards, with each new section blocked off by a cloud of polluted water you must dissolve by finishing puzzles in order to make progress.
Koral contains no story beyond the implication that you are a sentient wisp of ocean current (or a water spirit) doing its best to clean up ocean biomes as it travels. The reason you cannot see this wisp in the included screenshots is because it is near transparent and looks like a smudge on your screen. It’s very lazy design.
This is my biggest complaint about Koral: The point of interaction with the game environment has zero effort or creativity put into it. It’s really a bummer because the game itself is lovely. The developer could have had the user play as a curious octopus or a brave sea otter. There are many times you have to carry up to five little orbs of light as part of the puzzles, so an octopus would have been perfect for the task.
Instead the player is given a plain smudge of water in a larger body of water, which is hard to see and entirely forgettable. It’s not even fun to move around as the wisp. You would think a bit of personified water current would be quick and nimble, but movement is arduous and clumsy.
What about the puzzles?
There are maybe two hours worth of content in Koral on the generous side. The puzzles are boring, same-y, and do nothing innovated or special. There are no abilities or skills to learn. The only additional mechanics introduced to the player throughout the game are a handful of new coral that perform mechanical functions like opening a access to another area.The others are all equally basic.
There is little to keep the player engaged in general. Nothing compels the player to care about forging ahead beyond wanting to see the next pretty seascape. All of this together this leaves the game feeling unfinished, like the dev perhaps ran out of time to fully realize his vision.
On top of these gripes, Koral is buggy. On several occasions I thought I had found a secret passage to a collectible which actually turned out to be an unintended hole in the stage design that left me stuck inside the walls or outside the bounds of the level.
Koral could have been marketed as a screen saver for the Switch at a lower price point and I would not have complained. It’s seriously gorgeous! Watching sea creatures move through the visual depths of field is mesmerizing. That makes it all the more disappointing that there is so little substance to the gameplay.
I love the idea Koral was going for and I always respect solo developer projects, but I struggle to give it more than a 5/10. Koral is not worth its $12 price point and I would suggest waiting for a sale if you like the look of the game. You can find another video game blogger take on Koral by Ladiesgamers here.
My only conclusion is that the dev must have put all of his time and energy into the art design for 95% of the project, then in the last few weeks he remembered he needed to make a playable portion of the game, so he cobbled together a few basic puzzle designs at the last minute. It’s a shame because the carefully made, lovely visuals deserved better to support them.
Thank you for reading!
Video Game Review Archive
Support Backlog Crusader on Patreon – $1 a month is less than what’s lost beneath your sofa cushions! Plus you get Discord access!