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Review: Kairo

PC Steam indie Desura adventure puzzle

Developer: Richard Perrin
Publisher: Lupus Studios
Platform: PC (Steam, Desura, Just Adventure, Web), Android, iOS
Release Date: April 24, 2013
ESRB: N/A (E suggested)

A download code was provided by the publisher for this review


When you ask why gamers ever started gaming you often find an answer about being in awe over a first game experience. Looking back on it, most of us had a time frame where gaming was something that left us in awe. Speaking from my own experience, games such as Star Fox and Super Mario 64 triggered something within me that made me need to seek out more and more titles. As an adult now, I rarely feel these moments of awe any longer when playing a bevy of new games. Does that mean we can’t ever regain a sense of excitement toward the unknown in gaming? No, and I say this because Kairo brought back the sense of gaming I had as a child.

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Kairo can be boiled down most succinctly by defining it as an exploration game utilizing puzzles. This type of adventure game has a long history with fans and includes such monolithic names as Myst. What differentiates Kairo from the rest of the genre, then? The simplicity of play, visual design, and how it conveys story are all rather unusual. Together, they create a powerful experience that was a joy to explore.

The game starts you off very simply. Without any heavy explanation or noted goal, players must simply begin walking through the world. Through checking out the strange sights you are able to recognize that there are puzzles to be completed. Rooms that initially seem completely random in design reveal their puzzle elements when you view them critically. Other rooms may seem meaningless at first until you consider them in a new way. This method of puzzle design is unobtrusive and intelligent.

For the most part, puzzles are not hard. It may take a bit of time to recognize something about them, but from there it’s usually just a matter of tweaking your play to solve one. Some puzzles are completely simplistic, but the game has no need of gatekeeping its secrets. Why have dozens of incredibly convoluted puzzles? It serves no purpose aside from artificially lengthening games and making players angry. All the same, some puzzles are neat enough that you’ll feel great upon solving them.

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A lot of the pleasure from solving puzzles comes from the world. It all seems like some otherworldly, long-abandoned society. There are strange symbols, caskets, obelisks, and otherworldly lights shining which beckon you near. Without NPCs, you are alone to explore the weird landscape and formulate your own ideas. Players find themselves wanting to see each new room.

Visual design in Kairo is top notch. It seems like something that a student of architecture would get an extra thrill from, as well. Areas all have distinct visual design and colors. Everything meshes together as a comprehensive whole, but you can never be quite sure what an area will look like when you enter into one. Some areas are bright and godly, while others seem connected with the sky. Others still seem quite threatening. These concepts are inferred by the player without ever having to read a dialogue box or sign. Leaving players to experience and understand on their own is a fantastic idea for the game.

If there would be one easy way to destroy the careful workings of Kairo it would be to pair it boisterous soundtrack, so thankfully that was not the case. Music is yet another high point of the game. The soundtrack, composed by Wounds, provides even more life to the atmosphere. It pairs perfectly with the desolate, yet inviting landscape by sounding mystical and mysterious. The ancient and unusual sounds draw players in further by enriching their surroundings.

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All of these pieces come together and create a game that I felt I could truly be immersed in. There were secrets that I recognized and steadily worked at uncovering them. Solving any puzzle felt like moving closer to some unknown goal. Even though I had no concept of what lie at the end, it was something to strive toward as the world was just so enthralling to me. I hoped to solve every last thing and see every part of the landscape. By not outwardly imposing a narrative or rules on me, I felt free to explore at my leisure and take in the world.

It is hard for a game to succeed at this because it requires a great deal of skill. There is also the requirement of players to not be in a hurry to “get to the point” of something. Kairo has skillful design to fulfill the first requirement. If you’re interested in playing the game then make sure you are able to take care of your end of the bargain. Don’t come into Kairo expecting a brief experience. Instead, take it as an opportunity to unwind and explore without the usual requirements of modern games.

 


Pros:

+ Excellent visual design
+ Variety of puzzles and places to explore
+ Puzzles are not of the nonsensical adventure game variety

Cons:

- Not a game for those looking for explicit narrative

- Will leave some wanting more content


 


Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10)
Fantastic


If you can immerse yourself into Kairo then it may just provide a truly enthralling experience which is separate from what most other games are trying to do.




3 Comments

Great review, I keep looking at this everytime I see it on Steam, but hadn't heard a peep about if it was actually good. I'm definitely looking to play it now, as it sounds right up my ally!

 

And I agree with you about not being awed as much anymore. It's funny that the more impressive and advanced games get, the harder it is for me to truly be thrilled or excited about them. A surprising exception I played recently was The Unfinished Swan. I completely fell in love with that game, and think that new more artist experiences are really what the medium needs to start moving toward.

 

Maybe I'm just jaded, but there are only so many shooters I can play before I start feeling like I'm spinning my wheels, and wasting my time on the same things.

Wow, this actually sounds pretty cool, and that's coming from someone who has no interest in these "you're all alone to explore these environments in first person" games that have been popping up lately. I'll definitely keep this one in mind and grab it next time it goes on sale.

Great review! I have no idea what this game is or heard a single thing about it. I like how unheard games can surprise the heck out of you. Now gotta keep an eye on this one. Thanks Marcus!

 

 

 

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