Kairo is the perfect late night game. Weird architecture to wander through. Eery ambient noises. No characters, no action, no real story. Kairo is a dream world for you to explore.
I can see how for some people, Kairo may seem incredibly boring. I mean, it’s basically a series of texture-mapped blocks for you to navigate with a few sounds and puzzles thrown in. But I often dream of wandering around through weird architecture and I love exploration in video games. One of the things I loved about Shadow of the Colossus was that I could wander around the map, find strange ruins, climb trees, and interact with the wildlife. So this game is made for me. And Kairo is more than texture-mapped blocks. The areas are assembled with care, creating some stunning visuals. And each area has its own muted color palette and grainy texture that add to the ambience.
Besides exploration, Kairo is a puzzle game. This took me a little while to figure out. There was no tutorial or onscreen guide to tell me what the game was about. But I gradually realized that I could interact with some of the objects in the game- some moved, some made noises- and that the areas formed a kind of level that I had to unlock before I could progress. Also, the fact that when I paused the game one of the menu options was “hints” clued me into the nature of Kairo.
In the beginning the puzzles were fairly straight-forward, but creative. I could really just get into a state and float through the game. Later on however, the puzzles became a lot more obtuse and I started needing to use the hints. Once I got the idea that a lot of the puzzles involved converting symbols to numbers I had more success. Still, I wish I hadn’t needed to use the hints. I’m not sure if that is a failing on my part or the game designer’s.
In the end though, Kairo is a beautiful little game. It is a dream world that pulls you in with its atmosphere and curious objects. So many independent games these days try to move away from action and get into ambience and exploration, but tend to fail as games as a result. I’m thinking particularly of Dear Esther which while being beautiful and very evocative at times– the underwater freeway, the ending– basically just required you to hold down the forward key the entire game so you could cycle through all the narration. In contrast, Kairo provides you with real areas to explore and actual puzzles to solve. So it’s not just a set piece, it is an actual game.
I was pleasantly surprised by Kairo and I highly recommend it if it sounds like your thing. A world awaits…
(written September 12, 2014)