EQQO is beautiful. It’s interpretation of Ethiopian culture and its poetic way of telling stories is fascinating. Yet it is held back by its very design. Being designed around the gyroscope means most puzzles end up rather simple and the general design doesn’t live up to some of EQQO’s best moments.
EQQO’s base concept is very interesting. The central character, EQQO, cannot see and wears a white blindfold over his eyes. This often plays into concepts such as his own faith and, in turn, the faith he places in you. You play as a representation of a mother, a spiritual and literal guide to him. The role you play is essentially that of a guiding hand throughout his story. You must direct him on where to go through one of two means. You can either use the Switch’s gyroscope to look around you and press buttons to activate things or you may use the joystick. This feels like a game built for VR. It is pretty and its audio design is lovely but its central gameplay is very basic.
I think it’s fair to say EQQO is an ‘experience game’, as pretentious as that sounds. It offers a charming and often heartfelt story but the gameplay takes a backseat and almost feels like it wasn’t really thought of when conceptualising EQQO. While it makes EQQO a memorable experience, it makes it hard to critique.
Let’s start simply with the gameplay. The majority of the game focuses around our main character and a large snake egg. The relationship between these two becomes almost symbiotic as you delve further into the story. It needs you to protect it and carry it, and you need it to progress. The puzzles often take shape in a few main ways. The first is that EQQO must hold onto something while you search around for something to move. Another puzzle involves picking up objects in order to weigh down a lever or throwing items to a specific place. Another such puzzle involves leaving the egg somewhere whilst you quickly solve a test and make your way back. The puzzles rarely change from this main formula throughout.
This is as a result of the story. The majority of EQQO is either about living through myths or creating your own. The mother tells tales of a serpent god who laid his eggs in the mother tree, an ageless mythical tree. Unfortunately, in the central story of EQQO itself, the mother is missing and the snake has been badly wounded, presumably by humans. This sets up the central conflict very well. To what extent are humans responsible for killing myths and spirituality? What role does EQQO have in that? Can he displace the damage we do? EQQO, for the most part, does not attempt to answer these questions, opting instead to leave you to ask them of yourself.
That’s what works about EQQO. And when it does work, it is beautiful. The wonderfully archaic Temple of Issa draws direct inspiration from Biete Abba Libanos in lovely ways. Everything has this ancient feel to it and the gyroscope elements often work to engross you in the world. Unfortunately, this is the single biggest issue in EQQO: obtuse controls and some technical issues that deliver crashes. These two things clash. The immersive world design enunciates its issues as they often bring that immersion to a grinding halt.
That said, the music and art design of EQQO works very well in its favour. The music moves delightfully from an ethereal floaty soundtrack to a stripped-back acoustic one. This contrasts well with the art style of EQQO. It often feels like a pretty mix of “Team Ico” and “ThatGameCompany” offering lush bright areas when needed but also dark brooding structures.
Overall, EQQO for Nintendo Switch does a great deal of things right: it has an occasionally great atmosphere and offers a truly unique story inspired by Ethiopian design and culture. Unfortunately, its central design is often lacking and some technical issues bog it down from what it could be. It’s design seems focused around VR-based ideas and, unfortunately, the game suffers for it.
Release date: Feb 2020
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)
Massive thanks for the free copy: Nakana.io