By John Walker on June 21st, 2011 at 2:55 pm.
Sometimes it’s just good to wander around, slightly confused. I should declare my interests here: I wander around confused most of the time. I’m in fact President of the Wandering Around Confused Organisation (WACO), a body of people who spend most of their days wondering how they got wherever they are, and how on Earth they’re going to get home. The only problem with my daily version of this endeavour is the lack of puzzles. Indie adventure Kairo puts this right. It’s worth a look.
Set somewhere between a locked room puzzler and a first-person adventure, it’s a bizarre world of stark blocks and careful, abstract architecture. Without an inventory, weapons, or even a ‘use’ button, this is bare-bones gaming with the emphasis on exploration. And it’s worth exploring.
While there’s undeniably tones of (eurgh, I can barely type it)… Myst (spit spit SPIT), they seem to be the better tones, not reading some hideously written bullshit book before randomly flicking switches until you can pretend you solved a puzzle. Oh, okay, there’s a little bit of the latter. But what makes Kairo interesting is not standing on switches to find out what they do – it’s the atmosphere, a combination of design and sound.
An especially nice recurring detail is the way the world will often shape itself around you. Scenery moves into place as you walk toward it, and disassembles as you walk away. This is then applied as puzzles too, with a lovely idea in a large empty chamber that’s in fact a maze, the unknown walls springing up to block your way as you approach them. It’s inventive ideas like this that make it worth exploring.
At the moment, this being an alpha, there are of course improvements to be made. Most of all I’d like to see a change in the way edges of platforms are handled. The game contradicts itself pretty often with whether you can jump off an edge or not. Sometimes it’s necessary, other times it’s artificially blocked with invisible walls. I think it would be preferable to be able to fall off edges and be gently replaced where you fell (this isn’t a realistic world to start with – you’re running along floating platforms while blocks serenely glide around you), rather than the peculiar restriction of invisible barriers.
One-man dev team Richard Perrin is developing the game with the increasingly common technique of taking pre-orders and giving the alpha build in return (for $8/£6). He describes what you’ll receive as “the first (and smallest) of the three areas in the game)”. Which is impressive, since what I’ve played is pretty huge. The game will be completed later this year, and anyone who pre-orders will continue to receive alpha/beta builds until it’s finished.
Take a look at the trailer for a better idea of what it’s like: