When I first saw Omno, I could see the influences it had from other indie games. It had the sole wanderer on a mystic adventure vibe from Journey, the exploration and natural preservation of Grow Up, and I even saw Tearaway in the paper-like blades of grass and foliage that populated its world. It’s obvious even from a glance that Omno is beautiful. Its environments and art style are simple, but every moment of the game is bursting with colour, making me want to take a screenshot almost every minute. Games developed by solo developers are always monumental achievements in the creation of art, but Jonas Manke‘s Kickstarter-funded, 5-year project is a debut of the highest calibre.
Story and Narrative
The story of Omno follows an unnamed character as they make a pilgrimage through a forgotten world. The mystic traveller wears a tunic with a cloth belt and scarf, and they wield a staff which they walk with – making them seem both young and old. Upon waking in swampy marshland, they look around as if they’re not quite sure where they are – as if seeing it all for the first time. You jump across some rocks to a new area, where frog-like creatures hop at the water’s edge and stare at you in curiosity. You walk on and come to a pillar, one of the last standing stones of some ancient ruins. With your staff, you light the runes etched into its face, and it reads, ‘Heed the call, set out on your journey, follow the path to the light.’
The story is gleaned from floating data logs, like diaries, that are hidden throughout the world as you venture through different areas. Written by a staffbearer who walked the path before you, they reflect your own journey and feelings, commenting on the society of staffbearers to which you belong. This composition of Omno‘s history and the lost civilisation which previously inhabited the world is reminiscent of the ancestor ruins you uncover in Fez. Throughout the game, you are a lone traveller, last of your kind, following in the footsteps of your people.
While Omno‘s story is delivered without dialogue and kept mostly in the background as you explore the different environments on your pilgrimage, what it manages to do in terms of narrative is astounding. Throughout the game, you are accompanied by a green, flying squirrel-like creature. Your green companion starts off by appearing very timid and uncertain of you, but as you spend more time together your bond increases and you forge an unbreakable friendship. The more ruins and data logs you discover, the more you learn about the Staffbearer society who worshipped the essence known as the Light – the life present in all things. For at least half the game, I wasn’t sure where Omno was heading, or what it was trying to say. However, the story told in the data logs of the second half changes in tone, and as I started to understand what Omno meant (at least to me) I was hooked to discover where the story concluded.
The interpretability of Omno‘s story is also a huge factor in why this game is so engaging. All the way along the journey, I was questioning whether the motives of the staffbearers were right, whether the Light was a benevolent force, and what it all really meant. At its conclusion, Omno manages to tell a story that is personal, heartbreaking, and life-affirming. Over time, you invest in your journey, the animals you interact with, and the world you have come to know. I didn’t find it easy to put down the controller after Omno‘s credits rolled, and even when I did I knew that I would be back sometime for another pilgrimage.
Omno begins with the simplest of controls – you start off only able to walk and jump. In the very first area, you learn all that exists for you to do in the rest of the game: there are data logs to read, beacons and runes to light, environmental puzzles to solve, and stone slabs to meditate on. You are equipped with the ability to hold up your staff to see a percentage of how much you have completed in each area, and once you have found and used the meditation point, you can find the other tasks available in that area.
In the beginning, your traversal through the world feels very static and sluggish, just walking from place to place. But the more the game progresses on, the more abilities you unlock. These are abilities such as dashing, surfing, and floating, and each brings with them new platforming possibilities and environmental puzzles to solve. The surf ability is particularly fun to use and feels great with the gravity of moving faster downhill. Though the one problem I experienced was having to press each time to initiate the float ability when it seemed much more intuitive to hold onto the button to prevent me from falling. Because the environmental puzzles rely on being naturally discovered in each area through platforming, any traversal issues matter greatly. While it often feels like there can be multiple ways to reach a certain point in the environment, there is usually one expected path. This is a shame, as I did enjoy trying my best to get on top of a certain pedestal from a location I chose, but ultimately the edges on certain objects are not always as mountable as others, and usually, there was an easier way.
I didn’t ever feel challenged in Omno – but, wait, wait! That’s not a bad thing. You see, throughout Omno, it’s clear that the game is supposed to be a meditative, contemplative, and relaxing experience. It doesn’t exist to confound you or test your intelligence, but it does make you feel smart in the intuitive implementation of the puzzle designs. The beginning biome of Omno, in the marshes, holds the most simple of these puzzles: a huge cube block that you push into place so that you can jump over to the next platform. Over the course of the game, these environmental puzzles become more elaborate, with buttons, levers, jumping platforms and more. If you’re well versed in video games, all of Omno‘s systems will feel very familiar, and the puzzles will feel like a reprise of most other simple platforming puzzle games you have played.
To get 100% in each biome – whether it be swamp, forest, tundra, or desert – you’ll need to catalogue every animal, read every rune and data log, find every sphere capsule of light, and do a whole load of meditating. It’s extremely easy to get 100% completion in one save for this game and, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to. Omno isn’t a game that’s meant for lovers of fast-paced, fluid platformer action. I played about an hour of it each night for a week and found it to be an experience I looked forward to at the end of the day to relax and unwind. If you can get lost in beautiful worlds and can find joy in simple exploration, Omno is the game for you. Developer Jonas Manke has bottled up the feeling of calm and made a game that – if you’re looking for it – can do some much-needed mental healing.
Graphics and Visuals
As I write this, I currently have screenshots of Omno that I took proudly displayed on my desktop wallpaper and screensaver. The simple, soft textures of Omno‘s world make everything look lovingly sculpted out of clay, or folded from paper. Where the art style really benefits is from the varying colours of the different environments – from the murky greens of the swamp, to the purple of the forest, the whites and blues of the frozen tundra, and the oranges and browns of the desert. With each area comes a dramatic unveiling of a world in a new colour, and this makes every step of the pilgrim’s journey a spectacle of wonder.
Despite the pilgrim and their companion only having a simple design, I found them both able to convey so much emotion and expression just through their body language and their eyes. You can see fatigue, wonder, or concern just from the dimming or opening of their white eyes – the only feature visible on their face. Similarly, there is so much character infused into all of the animals you come across. Each one has its own unique response to your interaction. A memorable moment was approaching what looked like an apple with eyes planted in the ground, and interacting with it only to see it lift itself up and run away on long spindly legs. The amount of charm put into each of the animal’s personalities is a sweet touch – whether they resemble otters that slide with you across the ice or huge dinosaurs that roam the land in a prehistoric patience.
Music and Audio
It feels like Benedict Nichols (The Falconeer, Before We Leave) was given a real artistic opportunity with Omno to explore himself as a composer. Similar to how the Journey (Austin Wintory) and Ori (Gareth Coker) scores are intensely emotional in the way that they convey a narrative through music, the story of Omno is so embedded within its soundtrack so that the two are inseparable. Just like how the experience of The Falconeer is bound to Nichols’ contribution (you can find our analysis of one such track, Pesky Marauders, in our Theme of the Week here), what makes Omno is the synthesis between its gameplay and its score.
The soundtrack is used heavily throughout the game, making the game feel very saturated with Nichols’ soft, dreamlike melodies. The purpose of this is that every time you turn on the game, the music lulls you into a relaxed state. It makes you feel safe, and it reflects the wonder of the pilgrim as they explore the beauty of the world around them. The music is most noticeable in the way it kicks in when you start surfing in order to drive you forward in the energy of racing along Omno‘s worlds. The other moments where it is most prominent are the rides on the back of legendary beasts which shepherd you between areas, making your journey seem predestined. In these sections, the music swells in triumphant celebration, a joyous symphony of euphoria as you experience the spectacle of these voyages.
One of the standout moments of the soundtrack is reaching Cavulta Canyon, the desert area. In this section of the game, the music takes a notable step back to become more ambient than melodic. The reverberating echo of the Cavulta Canyon track conveys the desolation and vast expanse of the desert. The pilgrim is uncertain, perhaps even fearful as they enter this new environment where life is not as abundant as it has been in previous sections. A huge, vulture-like creature scavenges a carcass, and you wonder if you really have to traverse this place to complete your journey.
Then, the music slowly builds as you progress through the canyon. The track it leads into, Sand Challenges, kicks in as you begin to solve the new environmental puzzles. This track has such an energy and force infused into it that I could feel it inspiring me to solve the puzzles as I knocked the blocks into place and found the right path. Omno‘s soundtrack is dreamlike, melodic, and I could quite honestly listen to it during the day to chill out to. The female vocals used throughout are the sincere thread that holds all the tracks together. It emphasises your mission to find what happened to your people, and the maternal tones of the music make the pilgrim seem childlike in their wonder and the seeking of their path. Nichols has added such an elaborate layer to the storytelling and experience of Omno that it renders what is already an impressive visual showcase into a narrative that will stay with you and which you’ll want to play again.
Omno could be described as being an example of the quintessential indie game. One with a very stylised world, an emotional journey, and general feel-good game design. While it doesn’t present itself as overly original – following in the likes of other slow, meditative experiences such as Journey or ABZU – it is a unique enough experience to have its own merits. While its mechanics and platforming also feel like reprises of successful elements from other indie games, Omno doesn’t feel pressured to break the mould, and it never contorts itself by trying to be something it’s not. The prevailing feeling of Omno is that it is a feel-good indie game that holds a lot of fun for people who enjoy peaceful platforming and world exploration.
While Omno might have gone relatively unnoticed had it not been on Xbox Game Pass, I believe that it will surprise every player who gives it their time. Having finished Omno, I don’t think it quite manages to separate itself from the likes of Journey. However, I think it is certain that Omno is a standout indie game for the year and, if anything, Game Pass is lucky to have such a high-quality indie game experience in Omno. With such a deeply moving narrative experience, this game is a gem that asserts the value of Game Pass for smaller indie titles: a curated library of highly creative and personal works of art, where each one has the ability to surprise and delight you. But I think it’s been a while since I’ve been as surprised and delighted as Omno made me.
Jonas Manke‘s debut holds huge amounts of promise. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Studio Inkyfox.
We were provided with a game code for Omno for review purposes, but this does not affect the authenticity of the praise or criticism the game received.
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Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Developer: Studio Inkyfox
Publisher: Studio Inkyfox and Future Friends Games