What are your thoughts on educational games or, rather, games that teach you something as you play? Do you like them? While most of us are just fine playing video games that aren’t actively trying to teach us new things (hey, no judgement, I’m usually right there too!), it can still be fun to tackle something that both challenges your gaming prowess and teaches you something at the same time. The main problem with education-based games is that most of them are aimed at children. That isn’t inherently a bad thing – it’s good to get kids excited about learning – but that usually leaves the rest of us out of the learning-centric game loop. It looks, however, like someone – or rather a group of someones – is attempting to do something about that by designing. Recently, I was given the opportunity to sit down with a preview copy of The Young Socratics’ upcoming game, Odyssey. Ready to dive first into a new, age-inclusive, breed of edutainment? …Okay, no, I still don’t like that word. I tried to make it work, but it sounds so dorky. Anyway, let’s just take a look at what Odyssey has to offer thus far.
Odyssey begins with your character picking up a radio signal from a nearby island group known as the Wretched Islands (ominous!) while out at sea. Once fully in range of the signal you find out that it is actually a distress call, set on loop, sent out by a young girl named Kai. It seems as though Kai and her family were on the normally-forbidden Wretched Islands for scientific reasons (which are covered in detail as you progress further into the game), when they were attacked by a group of pirates which caused Kai and her family to go into hiding. Being as smart as they were, however, they didn’t just flee the scene – rather, they set up a number of highly-sophisticated puzzles that barred one from progressing further into the island until solved. The pirates were seemingly not clever enough to solve the puzzles and ended up leaving the islands (for now, anyway), but Kai and her family still remained trapped – it’s up to you to save them!
Within the first five minutes of gameplay I immediately picked up a “retro PC adventure game” vibe from Odyssey due to how it plays. Progression essentially takes place in a short-and-sweet cycle of exploration > reading/gathering clues > puzzle-solving that persisted throughout the demo. It’s a simple cycle, but for the purpose of this game it worked out quite well. Despite the less-than-friendly name, the Wretched Isles were actually quite visually appealing, and being able to walk around them in-between puzzles was pretty neat. Most of the actual exploration required by Odyssey was very straightforward – you knew that you were supposed to go from Point A to Point B and there was no way of getting lost –but it was well designed, and really ended up just further letting the retro vibes sink in.
After getting to wherever it was that you needed to go, you inevitably would find yourself face-to-face with two things; a puzzle, and an excerpt from Kai’s journal. I guess that Kai assumed that pirates couldn’t read (she was probably right) because, along with every puzzle, Kai left a part of her journal behind that hinted at how to complete your current puzzle, but that wasn’t all. Most of the game’s storytelling was also done through the medium of Kai’s journal. Generally, before she would get into the puzzle, there would be several pages of actual journal entries. Being very much the child of her parents, both of whom were intellectuals, most of the journal consisted of scientific observations, but there was plenty of actual story involved too. While I expected a game like this to come with a fair amount of reading, even I was a bit surprised with just exactly how much there was to take in. Journal entries were not only frequent, but long as well. It’s all very well-written and easy to follow, but at times it felt more like I was reading a textbook than an actual story. It’s all very interesting, not to mention scientifically-accurate, information though so if you like to learn then you’ll love everything that Odyssey throws at you.
Finally, and definitely most importantly, there were Odyssey’s puzzles. I had previously said that Odyssey feels a lot like an old-school PC adventure game, and it does, but the game takes a much more modern turn when it comes to the puzzles. Odyssey’s puzzles are incredibly cerebral. There’s no running around the island while looking for a set of special items to use, and no tricks; what you see is what you get. The solution to the puzzles can be found by carefully reading through each new journal excerpt that you pick up (and like I said, there’s a lot of reading), but it isn’t as simple as you would think. The textbook reference that I made earlier actually fits pretty well into the puzzle-solving aspect of Odyssey, as each puzzle is essentially testing weather or not you’ve completely comprehended what you’ve read.
Most of the preview build’s puzzles were focused on astronomy and astrology – two subjects with which I was quite unfamiliar. Fortunately, this ended up being a testament to the game’s ability to teach as it essentially asked me “did we (the developers) make this concept clear enough that you can apply it outside of this reading?” Yeah, I know, it sounds like you’re taking a class, and you kind of are – but it’s a fun one! Though intellectually demanding, Odyssey actually did a nice job of making learning fun.
Odyssey may initially look like an adventure game about stopping pirates (and I guess it sort of is), but don’t let that fool you – this game is definitely an educational experience. That isn’t a bad thing though; quite the opposite. The folks over at The Young Socratics are a doing their best to set Odyssey up to be a huge learning experience, all while making sure that it still actually feels like a legitimate video game – and if you ask me, they’re doing a fine job!