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Kamiko (Switch) artwork

Kamiko (Switch) review

"Reliving the past with something new"

There are plenty of indie games these days that are trying to play on your nostalgia by claiming to be authentically retro. They do this through sprites or music that slavishly follow the limitations of the NES (or other old consoles and computers) as well as gameplay that is superficially similar to some of your old favorites. But in reality, beneath that veneer you usually find plenty of modern design choices, whether it be an attempt at a story or character customization or hidden collectibles or in-game tutorials or whatever. But no, Kamiko doesn't do any of that. With the exception of saving (which isn't even necessary) and bowing to the lower difficulty in modern games, and perhaps a very rudimentary combo system, there is nothing here that speaks to modern sensibilities. To put it bluntly, Kamiko is an NES game forced out of time, a game stripped down to its roots.

That's not going to appeal to everyone. Does the thought of something so, dare I say it, basic leave you rolling your eyes and feeling like the developer cheaped out? Does a tiny 1-hour game with no incentive to replay it other than do the same thing again feel like a waste of time? OK, well, no need to read any further. I just saved you $5; go buy a hamburger or something. But undoubtedly there are a few people out there who, like me, are intrigued by this approach, and may be curious about a new game in an abandoned style.

The closest famous comparison to Kamiko is probably The Legend of Zelda - the original, that is. Each world in Kamiko is about the size of one dungeon in Zelda, although in this game it's all interconnected with no discrete screens. Like Zelda, it's a labyrinthine maze, with no clues or hints as to where to go and multiple routes available to complete your objectives. Here, the objective is to reach four different shrines in each world, which will open up a portal to the boss. There are very simple puzzles like stepping on a switch or pushing a block, but for the most part the thrill is in exploring the world, remembering the key points, and backtracking when you need to. There are keys of various sorts that must be found and carried to locked doors, but which leave you weaponless as you attempt to navigate a world full of bad guys. Each level has two powerups (one for health and one for magic) that are hidden, but that's the extent of any side-questing.

You can play as a soldier, an archer, or a, um, hybrid. Enemies are plentiful and respawn often, and most take only one hit to knock out. There is a very basic combo system to attacks, which consists of simply hitting the attack button over and over. In addition, each enemy you kill gives you magic, and the more enemies you kill in a row, the more magic you get. This is primarily used to activate the four shrines and open chests or doors, but you can also charge up your attack using magic to perform a devastating move. Controls are simple: there's a button for attack (hold it down for your magic attack) and a button to run. Yep, two buttons, two actions; I said it was like an NES game, didn't I?

And that's pretty much it. Like I said, basic. Fortunately, your character controls well, and slaughtering enemies with the rudimentary combo system is fun enough (particularly with the sword; not so much the archer). While individual enemies pose no danger, the sheer volume of them is enough to make you proceed with at least a smidge of caution. Keep out of the center of the pack, attack and dodge at high speed, and whittle them down. Level design is intelligent, with enough environmental markers for you to remember the scene and hopefully connect the map together in your mind as you attempt to backtrack after finding that key you needed. Bosses are generally puzzle-based, as you might expect, and may require a death or two to figure out their patterns, but are otherwise disposed of quickly. Well, except the final boss, but that's to be expected, right?

OK, so we've established that this is a very short, simple game and that it does what it does adequately enough. So why is that good? Because sometimes, it's fun to just start up a game, finish it, and not worry about progression or stats or story or any of that stuff. The game is short enough to play in one or two sittings, and the core gameplay is satisfying enough that it can be fun to play through multiple times. Sure, there's "replay value" in choosing three different characters (although full disclosure: I didn't like the archer), but it's really just about wasting time in an enjoyable environment, doing something fun that not many other games try. Or it can be about trying to beat your fastest time, which conveniently is broken down into each stage so you can screenshot it and record your best. Or you can just play to see if your skills improve; if you can win without picking up any powerups or with using minimal charged attacks. Or maybe you just want to replay it because you know the map better the second time around and want to see how the level plays out when you're not aimlessly wondering. The whole point is that it's short and you play for fun.

Once you can accept the simplicity, and that it works well as that, there are really only two major common complaints left, one of which I think is wrong:

The first is that the game is perhaps too short for its own good. Only four stages? Yes, it's a simple concept, but the concept could have supported another one or two added to it. And while the thought of having a game that could be completed in less than an hour is good, you that still is possible with a little bit more. I don't want the game to overstay its welcome or lose that feeling of playing it completely, but it could have used a little bit more content.

The second is the claim that the game is frustrating because enemies constantly respawn. Nope, no problem at all. For one, this is necessary to ensure you can always get more magic (which is required to finish a level). But more importantly, if you leave at least one enemy alive, the rest will NOT respawn (much like Zelda). So it gives you a little bit of extra control in the game, and thus is an actual asset rather than a complaint.

Should every game be an 80s throwback with ancient game design? Of course not, but the opposite question must also be asked: should we have NO games like this? And I would say no to that as well. Kamiko fills a tiny niche that was completely ignored, and it does so admirably. Sure, it could be longer, and sure it could have taken some of the same fundamental ideas and modernized them, but neither of those detract from what Kamiko actually is. And at a measly $5, it's a fair price for the scope of what they were aiming for. So if you're looking for some true nostalgia of the 80s era without just replaying the old games, you can't get much better than this.


mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (August 09, 2018)

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