Koral Is a Gorgeous Puzzle Game That Will Make You Want to Save the Oceans

I find myself playing a lot of intense and action-packed video games, so when I stumble upon a game with a more quiet and contemplative feel, it's a welcome change.

When I first saw a trailer for Koral just a couple of days after beating the notoriously difficult Cuphead, it looked like precisely the type of game I needed to play in order to take a break and reset. The game follows a current's hypnotic journey through the ocean, complete with stunning underwater visuals and an inspiring soundtrack.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

Intrigued, I reached out to game developer Carlos Coronado to find out more. Not only did he provide me with a review key for Koral on the Nintendo Switch, but he also gave me some background on the unique title. Carlos' passions for diving and sailing inspired him to make the game, which he actually programmed during a long sailboat journey along the Catalonian coast. Some of the discoveries he made along the way even made it into the game. You can watch the making-of documentary for Koral here.

On the surface, Koral is a light puzzle and exploration game. Players take control of an underwater current flowing through the ocean. It's incredibly simple, with the entire game being played with a single directional analog stick.  While, at first, guiding the current along its journey is all about taking in the rich environments and admiring the sea life, the current's movements must soon become purposeful.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

It's not long before the current hits a wall of mucky green pollution. Before it can move on, you must work to heal that part of the ocean by solving a small puzzle. Mostly, this means identifying glowing red corals that contain special healing energy. By collecting this energy and spreading it to where it's needed, the current can diffuse barriers or become an ultra-powerful current that can break through tough walls.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

Sometimes, you'll need to use feather worms to get a temporary speed boost, or to move strongly rooted corals that act as switches to manipulate the environment. Each new area introduces additional tricks, but each movement serves the purpose of making the depths cleaner and more habitable for the life there.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

Thankfully, the game is never so easy that it becomes unengaging, even with its straightforward control scheme. Especially later in the game, mapping out solutions will take clever planning and thinking ahead. Even once you have your route mapped out, it can take a few attempts to move nimbly enough to reach your objective in the time allotted. Koral can get a little tricky at times.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

From the gameplay alone, it's clear that Koral's creator loves the oceans and understands how important it is to take care of them. The more dedicated the player is to discovering every aspect of the game, the better Carlos Coronado is able to impart some of that enthusiasm along to them.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

That's because, throughout the game, players might stumble upon little collectibles. There are 32 to find in all—some in obvious places, and others tucked away in hidden areas—and each one unlocks another important fact about the ocean. I'm wary of calling them "fun" facts because so many of them are about the destructive impacts humans have on the oceans and the critical conditions of corals and other sea life.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

Even the nicer trivia, like the fact that coral reefs have more biodiversity than any other habitats on the planet, can feel dire when you think about the danger our seas are in. While sometimes these would break the peace and serenity I felt as I played Koral, mostly they were a reminder to take stock and really appreciate the oceans (even the digital one in front of me) and to do my part to protect them.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

The music further drives those points home. It's quietly atmospheric, tugging on the heartstrings when appropriate to make the player really feel that they're going on an adventure. The inspiring music swells as you progress, with every twinkling sound effect making your movements feel like magic.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

And it helps that the game looks spectacular. It's packed with luscious oceanic ecosystems, from colorful coral reefs to sunny shallows and old sunken ships that serve as hotspots for biodiversity. You'll see a number of gorgeous fish as you make it deeper and deeper into the oceans, but you'll also encounter sea turtles, whale sharks, hammerheads, jellies and octopuses. While I found the wildlife in some of the deeper, darker areas a bit spooky, that only made me want to keep pushing forward to see what might be next.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

When the game wasn't beautiful, it was on purpose. Sometimes the seas would be green and dreary, but this would usually accompany facts about how we harm our oceans. When the game looks drab, it's to make that readily apparent, and when its beauty is inspiring, it's to celebrate the diversity of life and all of the mysteries that the seas contain. Koral may not be the most compelling and mind-boggling puzzler on the Switch, but it may be one of the prettiest, and it has a message I can definitely get behind.


(Koral via Carlos Coronado)

Koral is available today on Steam and in the Nintendo Switch eShop for $11.99.

If you enjoy beautiful puzzle games with powerful messages, click HERE to read my review of Gris.