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Not all too often does a game dictate my mood. They often make me joyous, but can also seriously upset me. The great games make me think, while the bad ones treat me like I neither know nor need anything. ‘Kairo’ definitely made me think, but it left me in a middle ground emotionally, wondering more about life than about video games.

In the simplest of words, ‘Kairo’ is a first person puzzle game made by Richard Perrin of Locked Door Puzzle. The game is set in the mysterious world of Kairo where the player begins solving puzzles to advance from one area to the next in a somewhat nonlinear fashion.

Art

The world of ‘Kairo’ is both gorgeous and fascinating. The whole environment is shapely, full of monoliths, and distinctive in its art style and use of color. Each area is themed around one color which is used as lighting and mood setting. It struck me as a minimalist form of expression and was able to do a heavy amount of emotional lifting with only subtle undertones.

That same theme of minimalism continues throughout the art of ‘Kairo’. Most striking, outside of the color palettes, was the use of space. ‘Kairo’ is always open and on rare occasion confines the player to closed space. At most points players can gander around and be staring at infinity, seeing endless whiteness or blackness surrounding them. There is an openness to a large potion of ‘Kairo’ but despite this space, I still felt very much trapped in ‘Kairo’.

‘Kairo’ felt purgatorial throughout my adventure. It always seemed that no matter what happened I was simply never going to be anywhere, do anything of immediate significance, nor see something brand new. It defied my expectations of a First Person Puzzler, as it never truly brought me any comfort. Whereas most the puzzle games I have played tried to keep me peaceful, ‘Kairo’ kept irking me for reasons I cannot explain.

These likely sound like negatives, but I welcomed the discomfort ‘Kairo’ brought me. It was refreshing to have a puzzle game not emotionally coddle me nor make me feel like I was on a jaunty stroll. I desperately wanted to escape ‘Kairo’ because the whole world was uninviting, and when I finally was able to escape, I felt an incredible sense of elation. ‘Kairo’ is not a place you want to be in life, and the success through the art, and perhaps more so the music, is an accomplishment which I appreciate and enjoyed.

Music

Oh, the music is also fantastic. The soundtrack is a droning electronic haze, which sets the mood perfectly. Long extended notes sprawl  over extensive tracks. The music is spaced much as the world of ‘Kairo’ is spaced. The dissonance of the soundtrack accompanies the player’s distance from the world. It is easy to get lost in the sounds of ‘Kairo’ just as it is easy to get lost in the puzzles. I hate to gush over something so small, but the music may have been the tightest knit aspect of the game and I really enjoyed it. You can check a track from the game below and purchase the soundtrack from Bandcamp.

Gameplay

All of the artistic aspects discussed above are nothing without solid gameplay. I would say ‘Kairo’ gets the job done decently. Many of the puzzles are fascinating and increase the mystery in the world. Some puzzles truly require ingenuity in thought and are interesting and innovative. At the end of these puzzles, the story will unfold in some way or another. Machines will click on, a man will be watching you from a offline screen, or giant orbs will animate. These are satisfying moments, even if the ambiguity of the world remains at the forefront of the message the game purveys.

Unfortunately, the puzzles were occasionally bland. Often I felt the puzzles were simply too easy or too abstract for the serious feel of the adventure. A puzzle may just require persistence in hitting one button repetitively, while another may require the player just to partake in trial and error. Some rooms are even there just for play, but the hardcore player, who does not use hints, may be confused by these rooms.

During other moments, the puzzles amazed. They could make me wonder and stare at the world I had delved into. Then, I could walk into the next room and solve a puzzle in 60 seconds with little to no payoff. Perhaps this was intentional to slam the message home; however, in the end, I did not feel I was accomplishing much by finishing puzzles and, while it was not too detrimental to my experience, some others may find it to be a glaring negative.

Literary Interpretation

Without ruining anything for you prospective players, ‘Kairo’ reminds me of purgatory. I made reference to purgatory earlier and ‘Kairo’ is teeming with what appears to be religious applications. The game uses no voice acting or text, except for two readings. One of which reads ‘I Am Alone Here’, which made my heart jump slightly upon reading the phrase. The other lends an uplifting promise, which you will have to play to find out for yourself.

‘Kairo’ holds some lofty ideals, but I respect a game with lofty ideals much more than a game which compromises for other’s beliefs. ‘Kairo’ is confident, even if it sometimes displaces the player from comforting notions and it left me feeling warm inside, even if I do not share the same views I perceived it as displaying; that we, do not only have one chance and deserve a second.

Conclusion

I greatly appreciated ‘Kairo’. It was a short, but thoughtful experience and succeeded in its goal and message. Not often do games dictate my mood, but even less often do games lead me from one emotion to another within minutes. ‘Kairo’ took me from spending hours feeling disheveled and uncomfortable to feeling an incredible sense of elation and warmth within a few minutes. It was as though Richard Perrin lit a lightbulb over my head and allowed me to see something brand new. That, in games, is a rarity.

If you would like to purchase ‘Kairo’, check out the Official Website. It retails at $8 and is available for Windows and OSX. There is also a link for ‘Kairo’s Steam Greenlight page, so upvote that motha as well. Thanks for reading. 

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