Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kairo - Thoughts

Kairo is an odd duck of a game; attempting to categorize what genre it falls into can lead to vague and misleading words. The best I can scramble together is that it's a conceptual puzzle game with minimal expression and a focus on exploration. The core of the game is foremost about deciphering what each area is asking of you, since figuring out the solution to the puzzles therein comes quickly afterwards. In that regard it's far from being a proficiency puzzler like Portal or The Swapper are (with a notable mechanic you have to master), but also not as complicated or intricate as something like Myst and its ilk (yet still close to them regarding a level of inference needed). What kept me intrigued enough to finish the journey was not the gameplay or investment in the abstract plot, but the cold, dead, and isolated worlds it threw me headfirst into.

In a way, Kairo acts as a love letter to simple geometry and architecture. The various settings you visit flaunt bizarre structures drained of their color yet paradoxically drowned in it, inciting a silent curiosity as you move around looking for gateways and panels. Through lusterless textures and repeating shapes, every locale remains strangely appealing despite the stark simplicity. If these screenshots don't grab you there's a good chance that you won't enjoy your time with the game, but I was personally drawn in by the austere dreariness plaguing each abandoned lot, the solemn stucco walls beckoning me to explore even deeper. Perhaps I'm overselling the atmosphere here but it's rare to have the ornate details we're accustomed to in current games stripped away, allowing us to reflect on the beautiful, dry skeleton that remains.

While I enjoyed the game overall, I don't feel like there's much to comment on regarding the gameplay/puzzles. There's reoccurring symbols that you need to write down in order to recall their order and sometimes you have to pay attention to small notches on a wall to determine a pattern, but that's about it. Due to the slow walking pace and little problem-solving demanded of me I felt fatigued by the third half, wishing that the game was shorter so it could easily be completable in a single sitting. I also got myself terribly lost at the hub with the torii gates due to its gargantuan size and a misleading auditory cue near the middle, something that extended my playtime well over how long I wanted it to last. Ultimately I wish I spent more time walking around and gawking at the scenery than dealing with the "game" part of the game.

Kairo provides a peculiar experience I'm not sure I'd strongly recommend to anybody I know, but conversely I wouldn't stop them from undergoing its stoic brand of isolation. It's not a boisterous game that will receive a lot of attention but I feel the various few that play it may look back on it fondly, as its strengths outweigh the strange middling ground it trudges through at times. There are scant few games quite like this.

Logo obtained from: lockeddoorpuzzle.com


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    1. It bothers me when "gameplay" seems to be getting in the way of a game that is succeeding without it.