Kairo

 

Norrin Perrin, aka Locked Door Puzzle, just released a new game called Journal, but I’m not going to review that. Rather, I’d like to travel back to 2013 and review his first successful game, Kairo.

Before the monumental advent of the Nintendo 64 in my house, my selection of games was limited. They were all chosen by my parents, they were all for our communal Macintosh, they were all kid-friendly, and they were all point and click adventure games. The digital, interactive iterations of I-Spy, a few math tutorials, and essentially anything published by Humongous Entertainment, the creators of Pajama Sam, Putt-Putt, and Spy Fox, the bread and butter of 1990’s born children with an aversion to the outdoors. But then there was the wild card, a game devoid of cute shapes and loud noises. Myst would be a thorn in my side for years, as I slowly developed the cognitive skills to solve it.

In case that previous paragraph didn’t clue you in, Kairo opened a can of nostalgia in me. The game is a landscape of abstract geometry, applied in a sparse, minimalist style. Within it, machines of varying complexity lie in ruin, and our player character must restore, understand, and complete them for reasons unrevealed. There’s a story, but it’s as sparse as the environment around you, and nothing is ever clear. The environment is one giant puzzle waiting to be wound, unwound, or altogether smashed, and more of the game unfolds with each successful action.

Its minimalism and brain teasing bears similarities to 2013’s fantastic Antichamber (which, you really should know, is available alongside a roster of some of the very best indie games in this week’s Humble Bundle, as of this writing), but is more Euclidian in its geometry, and much simpler. There’s only one real mechanic: move. There’s no inventory, or action button. To move an object, move against it. To activate a switch, step on it. Interaction is fairly intuitive, just be near anything and it moves.

But Kairo comes with no instructions, no omniscient narrator, no companion, nor help fairy. It’s big, empty, and alone. Of course, in a pinch, there’s a multi-tiered hint system in the pause menu, so technically even the lazy and puzzle-challenged can see the game through from start to finish, but any veteran knows that the puzzle adventure, especially one so open and so mysterious, is a matter of mindset and persistence.

The direct nomenclature of Kairo is never explained, but in Japanese, the word means a cloister, a temple wall enclosure put into place to create a space separate from the mundane world, where reflection and introspection can be perfected without the harsh interferences of reality. I choose to interpret that as not a coincidence. Games like Myst, Antichamber, and Kairo are like giant, interactive Zen kōans—landscapes of mystery and riddle that are best navigated through a marriage of childlike openness and curiosity, and the deep maturity required to have patience, persistence, and the humility to spend the time unraveling the riddle for its revelations in the end.

 

For PC, Mac, and Linux

Currently available for $5 on Steam and on its website.

 

http://kairo.lockeddoorpuzzle.com/ 

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