Games that are made to calm players down, such as Flow or Flower, have had some popularity. Koi is another game in the genre, aiming to keep players calm with a simple puzzle/stealth game that has nice visuals and a soothing soundtrack. Koi did succeed in putting me to sleep, but only because it’s not a very interesting game and has little going for it.
In what probably won’t be much of a surprise to anyone, in Koi you’ll play as a koi fish. This fish needs to travel upstream to stop pollution, or something. The game never really makes it clear what you’re doing or why, outside of a few rare conversations that confirms that, indeed, pollution is bad and turning other fish evil. Every now and again a frog showed up to tell me that I was their only hope, but I’m not entirely sure what I was the only hope for. Sometimes lines of text would display in Chinese instead of English, so maybe there was something important hidden in them. At the end of the game my fish got hugged by a little girl, which I guess is good? Koi‘s story is always like this and never really recovers from this mess of inexplicable scenes.
Koi takes some notes from puzzle and stealth games, but never really manages to get that deep into either. The main gameplay in Koi involves finding colored fish and leading them to flowers of the same color, while avoiding the evil dark fishes along the way. Dark fish are hilariously easy to avoid—they often move around in set patterns and have a small and clearly shown cone of vision. If you do stumble into the cone, then you have a few seconds to avoid their charging attack. Even if you’re hit, the penalty is almost non-existent; all that really happens is you get put into a stun state for about 20 seconds and are forced to move at an abysmally slow gait until you recover.
So with no real challenge coming from the stealth, you’ll instead have to rely on the puzzles. Here Koi has a strange lack of consistency, as it keeps jumping around to various puzzle types for only a single puzzle. One stage I had to hit leaves on a branch in the order they rang, similar to Simon Says. This became frustrating because a single mistake would require restarting the entire puzzle rather than just the segment I was on, and the leaves are ordered in a way that makes it more difficult to track than four panels. Thankfully after that one stage they never showed up again. This would continue for the entire game: a single tile rotating puzzle shows up only to never show up again. A single puzzle that requires matching patterns on lizards that never shows up again.
Most the time when you play the game, you can hit either R1 or L1 to bring up an arrow that will either point you towards the nearest fish or flower. It’s useful in some of the later levels, especially the gigantic final level that doesn’t really seem to have any structure outside of spamming this hint and following the arrow. Other levels it’s useless, like the level where you have to be killed by enemies to advance. Yes, one level is just a big empty area with no indication on what you’re supposed to do. Apparently the answer is “get killed.”
After only an hour of constantly switching puzzles, I was already finished with Koi. I don’t mean “I got frustrated and quit” either, I mean I had reached the end of the game. Koi is depressingly short, with each of its eight levels only between three to ten minutes long. There’s also no real reason to replay the game, unless you really need to collect the collectible puzzle pieces and stars. You can also unlock different colors for your fish by dodging enemies or getting killed enough. Yet unless you’re really big on hunting trophies, there’s little reason to actually go back and find all these collectibles. Even if you do, then you’re maybe adding another thirty minutes max to the game (unless you count leaving the game on overnight to get the “play for 24 hours” trophy).
If Koi has one thing going for it, then its the lovely art and beautiful music. Koi is a wonderful game to look at with vibrant art that really stands out and lovely environments that I could see myself relaxing in. At least the first segments feel that way. Later in the game the pollution-filled abandoned factories genuinely felt nasty to be in. The music always fits the theme as well with the piano picking up and slowing down for the rare fast moments of the game. Koi has a soundtrack I’d listen to, and I’d love to keep its art as wallpaper.
Yet sadly that’s all Koi has. The style can’t save this ultimately empty game. I appreciate that it’s China’s first console game in a long time, but Koi doesn’t do much of anything worth praising. Sadly this fish is best flushed.
Koi was played on a PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available on iOS and Android.
Koi is lovely to look at and listen to. It's also only an hour long, has pointless stealth mechanics, no consistency in puzzles, a nonsensical plot, and generally just feels like a totally empty game.