Cartoon Network and Adult Swim have consistently been the breeding ground for love letters to the ’80s and the totally radical past. OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo really knocks it out of the park when it comes to amping up the nostalgia factor, as well as the irreverent humor and silliness we’ve come to expect from the publisher — but it falls short in other departments. It’s got a great aesthetic and it’s reaching toward greatness, but can’t quite make it.
The premise is at the very least inventive: The folks at Lakewood Plaza Shopping Center have been plagued with monsters and the evil Lord Boxman, who wants to move on in and take the whole place over. He just didn’t count on one thing: K.O., the pint-sized kung fu master, and his band of miscreants. Using kicks, punches, and a flurry of other melee attacks (and some awesome throws) it’s up to you to make sure the town is safe.
The game has personality in droves, I’ll give it that. It’s got a clean animation style reminiscent of some of Cartoon Network’s biggest hits (Regular Show comes to mind) and a killer world to look around in. It’s a shame, then, that it feels so lackluster. You move your character around on the left side of the screen with one thumb, and the right side to fight enemies or interact with people and things. Combat is a cinch this way, but movement always feels awkward when you have to move your thumb so close to the middle of the screen to advance forward.
It’s fun to keep tapping enemy robots or other enemies into submission, but there’s not really much there. Plus, with the controls only most of the way responsive, there’s no real fluid combat to be had here. This isn’t so much of a problem when you’re breezing through the beginning of the game, but after you’ve completed a few quests it becomes obvious that aside from power-ups and errand items you can use to aid you on your quest, the fighting just isn’t that fun anymore. From there, the only thing the game has to carry it is its unique and colorful world.
It also has a few weird missteps in that it tries and fails to shoehorn in ads in a different way. From the beginning of the game you’re told that the game has ads. Alright, fair enough. Your first “mission” when you begin the game is to go speak to a computer that plays ads for you in exchange for a free item or some coins. This is optional otherwise, but the very first interaction you have in-game after the brief tutorial is essentially another tutorial on how to view ads. It’s a bit condescending, and it doesn’t bode well or keep me interested when a game is so eager to show me a “cool” way to view ads. I’m appreciative that it’s not a pop-up, but this didn’t feel any better.
I really enjoyed the world of OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo, but in the end that’s not enough to allow me to truly recommend it. It’s bright, fun, and cartoony but at best it’s a quick and dirty beat-’em-up that still wants you to gravitate toward ads and spotty controls. Maybe it’d work better as a cartoon someday.