I’ve always had an interest in the realm of educational games, mainly because I feel like it’s a genre that could do incredible good in the world, but has for the most part missed the mark spectacularly. A good educational game has to be both a good teacher and a good game for it to really achieve something special.
Odyssey by the Young Socratics has the makings of this. A science education game the takes the form of one part puzzle game, one part exploration game, there’s been clear though into creating an engaging story, a reason for the educational elements to exist in the game, and in creating engaging and interesting puzzles. While I times it may all feel a little convenient for the sake of the story, There’s a ton of potential in Odyssey, and in playing the Early Access version of the game, I found myself enjoying the learning experience far more than I originally anticipated.
Odyssey is part-adventure game, part-narrative exploration, and part-educational package. As an explorer in the Caribbean, you chance upon a distressed mayday call from thirteen-year-old Kai Rao – who, along with her family, has been attacked by unscrupulous sailors and are stranded on the Wretched Islands. The sailors believe Kai’s family knows the location of buried treasure on this tropical archipelago, so have sunk their boat to force them to find it.
I have to admit that the set-up of Odyssey does seem a little too perfect. This isn’t a bad thing, as all the elements of the story, characters and setting are all totally believable in the own right, it just requires a dash of suspension of disbelief that they’d all come together so perfectly with such perfect timing.
You’re tasked with rescuing the family of Kai Rao, who have been marooned/held captive on the Wretched Islands, a series of islands in the Caribbean that has been the home of ancient tribes, pirates and WWII Era Military Bases. It’s an exciting setting, and give the game everything it needs to work with.
Kai Rao’s family have, in an effort to protect themselves from the modern day treasure hunters that are holding them on the island, created a series of numerous puzzles serving as locks to various gates and doors, or hiding keys to unlock important pieces of equipment to move around the island. These all revolve around the lessons Kai Rao’s father have been teaching her in the historical basis of many concepts of physics and astronomy. In-Game, this is explained as being the intent because their captors don’t seem particularly intelligent (I find this hilarious, and love Kai Rao’s delivery of the fact in the intro cutscene. Stupid Pirates!), but this lays the framework for teaching scientific concepts to you as you progress through the island.
Before each major puzzle or set of puzzles, you’ll find a set of pages Kai Rao has ripped out of her journal. She has been recording what she and her father have been talking about. In the opening of the game, these lessons focus on the concepts of how ancient scientists and philosophers could determine if the Earth was flat or not, and the heliocentric and geocentric models of the solar system. There are numerous diagrams and pictures sprinkled in journal’s description of the lessons, and quite a bit of fantastic tension building commentary on what was going on before the family’s capture. Most importantly, key parts of the journal are highlighted, and these serve as your clues.
All of the puzzles you encounter are fairly straight forward, but absolutely require you to understand the concepts being taught. It’s a brilliant way to teach an idea and test that you understand it, all while making that learning feel rewarding. I found myself really enjoying this experience of reading a few entries from Kai Rao’s journal, applying what I read to the puzzle at had, opening my path forward and sprinting on to the next set of puzzles.
The Wretched Islands look fantastic, and the puzzles add an element of the fantastic. They’re all very grounded, but definitely impart a bit of Swiss Family Robinson-esq fancy to the setting.
Mechanically, the game control quite well, though I felt movement and interaction could be tightened up a bit, as they felt floaty at times; both things that can be tuned during the Early Access period.
Odyssey may just be in Early Access, but it’s core gameplay loop is well thought out, is executed fantastically and is just plain fun, and that’s one of the most important things a game can nail in early development.
I had the chance to talk to the co-founders of The Young Socratics, Vivek Kaul and Omkar Deshpande, about their background, Odyssey’s goals, and why choose to approach game design as a teaching tool. It’s especially interesting because their background is not in game design, but in science, which provides a fresh set of eye on the process in many ways.
Our thanks to Vivek and Omkar for taking the time to talk with us and share their insight on Odyssey and their experiences.
Odyssey is now available on Steam Early Access for $14.99.