Kairo is a strange game to say the least, even the pronunciation of its name confuses me. It imposes itself as a puzzler/explorer, but also plays host to an extremely eerie atmosphere.
Its art style, however, is something special. Textures and details are reduced to their bare bones, leaving the world of Kairo a clunky but vibrant and vast area to explore. This minimalistic approach bodes well for the game.
The aim of Kairo is to bring ancient machinery back into working order by completing puzzles. This machinery connects four different areas together, so to progress you must fix it all. This brings solitude (I guess) to a once lost and abandoned world.
Although this sense of the world being abandoned isn’t made clear at first, it becomes evident when you begin to explore; rotting skeletons are always a strong indication. It’s all a bit like Fract in an more mythical, temple-y environment.[drop]Strangely, it’s unclear exactly what your character is, as there’s nothing to be seen of it and the game’s played from a first person perspective; only footsteps can be heard. By simply jumping and walking you’re able to solve all of the puzzles you’re faced with without even being able to interact directly with the world, except for moving blocks or changing settings on buttons.
There is never really a moment in Kairo where you don’t have to solve a puzzle of some sort to progress. While this has the potential to become tedious, the game’s saved by the fact that it never uses the same puzzle twice. It’s always something new, showing that a great deal of imagination has gone into the game.
The puzzles are pretty challenging as well. Some examples include having to draw a certain shape by walking through different musical notes, or having to cross a bridge by only stepping on the correct stones (which reminded me a little of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade). You will also have to memorise certain patterns from earlier stages in some situations, which resulted in me actually bringing pen to paper outside of the game in preparation.
It sounds complex, and it is. The game left me stumped many times, sometimes for an embarrassingly long time.
As a big fan of puzzlers, I found Kairo to be both mentally stimulating as well as enjoyable. The solutions are never so hard that they leave you frustrated. Instead there is a balance, meaning you’ll get a great sense of accomplishment when you figure it all out. The solution is always right there in front of you, all you have to do see it for yourself.
For a game with a completely minimal world Kairo still remains to be a treat to see, though not in the graphical sense. The art style is really unique, and especially shines in the way colour is used.[drop2]Despite the fact there is a lack of any real detail or textures, the vibrant palette proves this to be an insignificant omission. Each level is washed in its own colour from blood red to a hazy yellow or a depressing blue. The colours used almost reflect the players emotions, as well as reflecting the level’s features and puzzles.
The soundtrack is very eerie and powerful, and really helps create an isolated atmosphere. The music compliments the game by lingering in the background, accentuating the sense of eerie loneliness the abandoned world so easily delivers. In contrast it can leave you in shock and awe as some of the more vast areas open up, or upon completion of a particularly challenging puzzle.
It is a great example of graphical prowess, or more the lack if it. It shows that stellar graphics aren’t needed to immerse you in a world. Kairo doesn’t need fully detailed and dynamic environments for the player the connect with the game. It is yet another showcase of aesthetics and gameplay and further proof that it’s not the technology behind a game that makes it great, but the design of both visuals and gameplay.
At roughly four hours long Kairo isn’t exactly the longest game you’ll come across. However, this all depends on how long it takes you to finish each puzzle, and how much you’d like to explore the world (there are collectibles to find). Priced at about £4.99 ($7.99) this does seem like good value and is certainly worth the money for a unique experience.
I can’t quite put my finger on what Kairo actually is. As a puzzle game it performs exceptionally well, but added on to this is an underlying eeriness to the atmosphere that is not common in the genre. To me it’s like bread and butter pudding – it really shouldn’t be nice but instead it works a treat, and maybe it’ll turn out to be a classic. I would definitely like to see more puzzle games trying to test your emotions as well as your wit.
With Kairo I think it’s best to actually show off what it is all about, as words simply don’t do it justice. Below I take you through the first level of Kairo, which really is only a warm up for the puzzles you will be faced with later on.
You can get Kairo from its official website here for $7.99. It’s available for Windows, OSx and Linux, as well as iOS if that’s more your thing.