Saving the Transient World | A Review of Kamiko

Kamiko is a game that feels like a step between what arcades were all about and what consoles wrought. Perhaps that’s a weird frame of reference, considering the days of entering a cacophony of beeps and blips in a dim room have all but gone away and playing in front of your television is all we know, but it takes the sensibilities of two disciplines and puts you in between them.

Kamiko tasks you with saving the transient world from invading demons, and to do so you must break their seals on four gates littered across each area and then face the subsequent boss after opening its lair. It’s a familiar loop, but with it comes a certain comfort in knowing what you’re doing. Kamiko is by no means a game that pushes boundaries, but it excels at what it does do. You can take it at your own pace; with enough cognizance you can blaze through the entire game in under an hour or take it piecemeal as the game saves every time you liberate a gate. It’s rare to see a game cater to varying play styles like this, which makes it all the more impressive for such a quaint title.

Other elements are at odds with each other, towing the line between breakneck action title and deliberate adventure game. Often doors are sealed until you bring a key or drop a set of orbs onto a pedestal. To keep pressure on the player, enemies constantly respawn. Most times they are just fodder that you slash through to build up your combo meter (which serves as an energy mechanic of sorts), but when carrying something, they become a true hindrance. You can’t unsheathe you weapon while holding something else, so it’s up to the player to navigate through the horde in order to meet your objective. Sure, it can be frustrating at times, but the forced change of pace spices things up.

Combat feels good, with your chosen shrine maiden (who turns into the superhero-esque Kamiko) glomming to foes when you tap the attack button as you drift into combos. One character has you swinging a sword while another offers ranged attacks with an arrow. The last combines the two by giving you a rebounding chakram that lets you jab with a dagger while it flies through the air. Nothing in the game changes depending on which character you choose, but your approach, and in a way the difficulty of the game, does vary.

Kamiko is very subtle in its design, never swaying into a depth of mechanics or world design that would pigeon hole it into a specific genre. It never pushes the envelope, but also never overstays its welcome with its simplicity. I don’t usually equate the price of a game with its quality, but at $5 Kamiko is the perfect impulse buy that leaves you satisfied with what you get while not straining your wallet in the least.

Developed by: Kan-Kikuchi/Skipmore

Published by: Circle Entertainment/Flyhigh Works

Played on: Nintendo Switch

Release Date: April 27th, 2017


Demo Dissection | Spelunker Party!

I like to think that I have a pretty firm grasp of general video game history, but I’m always quickly reminded that’s not actually the case the moment I find something that’s not within my sphere of influence. It’s far larger that most would give it credit for, and while it’s humbling for a moment when I realize I actually know nothing, I’m always eager to learn more.

Spelunker Party! is based on an Atari game from 1983 simply called Spelunker in which you took a miner through a platforming adventure in a cavern to collect gems and such while monitoring an air supply. There was a glut of software on the system in general and all I know are the old standbys, so I don’t have an affinity or really any knowledge of this game until I literally looked it up on Wikipedia for context just before writing this. However, having grown up in a family of actual miners, I do like the concept of exploring a cave with limited supplies trying to find riches while surviving the pitfalls of a treasure hunter. Consider me intrigued.

However, I soon discovered that’s where my enjoyment of Spelunker Party! kind of began and, as I soon found out, ended.

I knew something was amiss within moments of entering the first stage. There’s an unlit campfire on your way down your first tunnel that I assumed you could passively walk over. Instead, I was promptly bounced backwards and stopped in my tracks. Perhaps this is just a holdover from a bygone era I thought, so I hopped over it and continued on. I was then met with a vine hanging from the ceiling in which I erroneously fell of an edge to reach, which prompted me to lose a life even though I was within reaching distance of said vine and had only fallen perhaps a foot from the lip. Not sure what that was all about, I restarted close by, jumped to grab the vine this time and climbed up to a treasure. I apparently jumped from too high up at the next ledge and lost another life. To get past a rocky outcrop blocking my way, hieroglyphics informed me I could drop a bomb off to blow my way through. I did as I was told, but hadn’t walked far enough away from the blast radius and, you guessed it, died yet again.

I understand now that Spelunker Party! expects players to follow its strict regimen of rules that hearken back to the 80s. But I thought to myself: does this necessarily make the game fun? Specificity works well for games like Dark Souls and even the likely inspired-by Spelunky, but they work where Spelunker Party! fails because while their tenets are strict, they’re also fair. In this day and age one would expect that they could redeem themselves from falling into a chasm by at least reaching out to said vine. This game just arbitrary says “screw you” and has your explorer throw a tantrum after failing instead.

I didn’t expect to be swayed to the side of the fence that would have me actually pick the full game up, but curiosity about a historical nugget meant it was worth checking out. While there are ideas worth keeping from Spelunker, this game obviously decided to keep the baby with the bathwater making for an intentionally archaic experience that’s best left buried in the annals of history.