A new side-scrolling adventure game takes you, the atua Pūhaorangi, through the celestial realms to find your son Ohomairangi.
Developed by Maru Nihoniho’s (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāi Tahu) studio Metia Interactive, E Oho: The Awakening is a follow-up of sorts to the studio’s previous work, Pūhaorangi. But whereas Pūhaorangi was a digital storybook written by Raimona Inia (Te Arawa), E Oho is a mobile adventure game. The game introduces Pūhaorangi as a god of the Te Arawa confederation, whose first-born son is a demi-god named Ohomairangi. Your quest as Pūhaorangi is to find Ohomairangi, by collecting whetū and advancing through 15 earthly and celestial realms.
In terms of gameplay, E Oho employs a simple side-scrolling approach. This is the first Māori side-scrolling platform game I have ever seen, and I was stoked to jump in and get button-mashing. There is no complicated battle system to learn here – just a directional pad and a jump button, which keeps the interface accessible for all kinds of gamers. As you collect whetū, a bar at the top of the screen tracks your progress, so if you miss one, you can backtrack pretty quickly.
Unlike traditional platformers, if you fall onto a giant kina or get struck by a meteor, it’s not game over (you are an atua, after all). You just get knocked back a few paces. At the end of each stage, you are not confronted with a boss, but rather welcomed with a karakia, and presented with a huka-a-tai – sacred celestial stone – which allows you to access the next level.
By keeping the stakes low, you can actually relax and enjoy the ambience of the game. The graphics are gorgeous, depicting ngahere, moana, maunga, and other earthly environments, before you cross the “bridge between worlds” and begin to navigate through space and the spiritual world. Wingbeats of kererū and notes of taonga puoro resound as you play, and you’ll see plenty of Tāne’s children throughout each stage.
I slowly played through the game over the course of a week, but you could easily knock it out in an afternoon if you’re feeling ambitious. I found the whenua-based stages more challenging and visually varied than the ones set in space, although obstacles increase throughout both. As someone at the beginning of their te reo journey, I do wish the karakia and dialogue had side-by-side English translations instead of showing one language at a time, but that’s a personal quibble I will work to overcome.
I have been documenting Māori imagery in video games for a while, which are overwhelmingly instances of cultural appropriation and racism that portray te ao Māori in harmful and careless ways. Other writers at The Spinoff have also thoughtfully evaluated such portrayals, even if the content they have to work with is ridiculous or blatantly racist. I believe we should have sovereignty in how our sacred imagery and history is used, especially if our tūpuna or likenesses are embodied through gameplay.
It’s an excellent contrast to see digital and interactive media that showcase Māori content by telling specific iwi stories, with iwi consultation. Games such as E Oho or Umurangi Generation show nuanced representations of te ao Māori without perpetuating stereotypes or deficit culture. E Oho is simple, but offers reflections and learnings on whānau, tūpuna, tikanga, and te reo. It is a massive achievement to have access to Māori-developed games in te reo – from a wahine developer, no less – and shows so much progress from my days of playing lazy 8-bit microaggressions like The New Zealand Story, Chuck Rock, or Taz-Mania. This gives me hope that positive representation can be mainstream, and eventually something our kids take for granted.