After playing all the way through Kairo, I had to look up what the word meant. The best I could find was either a Japanese horror flick, or the Japanese word for “corridor” or “passageway”. I’m still not sure if those words describe the world of Kairo fairly. It’s a puzzle game that relies too heavily on exploration of expansive multi-part areas to be reduced to something that implies such linearity. But maybe I’m just thinking too much into it. I blame Kairo for inciting my over-thinking attitude, because with every step forward I took in the game, and every new room I entered, my curiosity grew deeper and deeper, trying to grasp the evocative environment I was so suddenly thrown into. But first, I had to figure out a few puzzles.
Kairo asks the player to trust it immediately. A blocky structure sits in the distance and a wide white nothingness callously cuts you off from reaching it. Take a leap of faith and find that you are able to walk on the empty void to reach your destination. Kairo is a puzzle game that tells you absolutely nothing and is all the better for it. It takes you into its hands, then reassures you that you can and will find a way through its obstacles. Exploring a room, and having the solution to its puzzle become exceptionally clear happens in nearly every area in the game. It helps that the puzzles flow so easily with only some minor exploration and critical thinking.
It’s entirely possible to enter into an area with no indication as to what your goal is, but you can see the pieces clearly. That’s what makes the game work so well. You take what the game gives you and begin to see patterns or see the mechanics slowly fall into place. Push a button, connect some dots, hear a distinctive chime and you’re on your way. The puzzles are deceptively simple, but many don’t leave room for random guessing, or fumbling your way through. Some take a keen awareness of your surroundings and require you to really soak in the environment, which is easy to do.
Kairo is a beautiful game in way that it strives to be both minimalistic and absurdly grandiose all at the same time. Buildings and structures are almost completely made up of blocks or simple shapes, with dull textures and basic colors, but they can stretch beyond the boundaries of your view, reach high upwards or surround you completely. At times, the world I was in would be black, and the soundtrack would go quiet, allowing only my footsteps to be heard. I would take several steps forward and a great monolithic structure would emerge from the darkness. It was a bit chilling. Kairo at once soothes, while it awes but constantly pushing me to search and explore.
Strolling through what seems like simple decor is a deception though. The puzzles you solve give a sense of rebuilding a world that has seemingly crumbled apart. I felt I was recreating an apocalyptic and fragmented world. A smooth platform will be blemished with a crack or be broken off from some other unseen bit. Squares on the wall begin emitting static and fuzzy images. Clearer images of some past litter certain rooms, while glimpses of our own Earth are thrown into various parts of the game. It leads to one moment two-thirds into the game that gave me shivers down my spine as the implications grew haunting.
It all comes down to speculation at the end of it. Much like the rest of the time, the game tells you nothing. Like its puzzles, it requires a player to soak it all in, then begin to understand as best they can. There is plenty of iconography to decipher if a willing mind is able. Separate puzzles that aren’t required to continue the game are scattered here and there. I could not crack them myself, unfortunately.
The main bulk of puzzles are generally nothing to wrack a brain over. I could solve all but one without the use of the game’s hint system, and it was the only time I thought the game was stretching for a solution. In fact, I actually wish the game was more difficult at times. There is not a large learning curve, while some puzzles in the beginning of the game are as difficult as the ones near the end. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to take knowledge or mechanics of previous puzzles and ramp them up a bit.
I’m not sure if it was my brilliant deductive skills or not, but the game was also considerably short, lasting for maybe 2-3 hours, so the $8 asking price might be a little much depending on what eight dollars means to you. There are still plenty of secrets to find that result in I-know-not-what, so a bit more time could reasonably squeezed out for even deeper exploration.
At the end of it, the short credits rolled and I sat wanting more. Kairo is a pleasantly confounding and atmospheric exploration game. It has a perfectly moody soundtrack, intriguing visuals and fluid puzzles. For the few hours it takes to playthrough, I was sucked in completely, and I wouldn’t mind searching through its world again.
Kairo is available through http://kairo.lockeddoorpuzzle.com/ and is vying for Steam Greenlight as well. Creator Richard Perrin has also shown interest in developing the game for the Oculus Rift, which sounds amazing.