Just one look at Kamiko and it will probably inspire thoughts of pure nostalgia in the best sense; it sure did for me.
Just look at the beautiful 8-bit 2d sprites and an over-the-top perspective and its easy to make favorable comparisons to NES and SNES classics like The Legend of Zelda, Secret of Mana, and even Legend of Gaia. It’s this visual trip down memory lane that inspired high hopes, such that if this game did not reach the heights of those giants, we would at least be in store for something special.
Boy, nostalgia can be a harsh mistress sometimes.
Kamiko is actually more akin to a classic arcade style action game like Gauntlet, than it is to a full-blown sweeping epic like those aforementioned titles. You control one of three transient figures, known as Kamiko, tasked with bringing balance between the real world and spirit realm by clearing the connecting gates of corruption and bringing balance to the realms again – think of it as the anime take on Mortal Kombat, save the blood bath. Each of the three Kamiko is gifted with a unique weapon – sword, bow, or boomerang/knife combo – a pool of hit points and a pool of energy. Energy is the currency in which this game operates. It opens doors, chests, portals, clears gates of corruption and is accumulated by decimating the swaths of enemies on screen.
The game is made up of only 4 stages and each requires your liberation of 4 gates before you open up a portal to an obligatory boss fight. Each level is fairly bland, but they do house a few secrets that are worth the extra effort obtaining such as extended health and energy bars.
My single biggest issue is how retro this game can feel and I mean that in the most tedious way possible. Enemies repopulate every time you step away from a screen, which is frustrating when backtracking is a not only a reoccurring theme, it’s a requirement. It becomes even more insufferable when you are pitted against timed trials – like traversing temporary bridges or stop gaps – or when you need to escort a key or orb to their requisite location without getting hit, forgoing the ability to run in the process.
What makes this unforgivable and almost impossible to play, as the speedrun game it was obviously designed for, is the erratic and abrupt enemy spawn patterns that will impede your traversal without a moments notice. There were times I wanted to shut the game off, especially when I was carrying the key to its destination, only to get hit a few feet before my destination by an enemy who literally appeared right in front of me out of thin air.
At least the hit detection is spotty enough in a good way most of the time; so as to get hit you literally have to be hugging a ghoulie for it to hurt you. All of this wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the games controls weren’t somewhat stiff. They aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to the tight responsiveness you expect from its inspirations, it pales in comparison and makes travelling – both walking and running – and fighting creatures a totally unsatisfying experience. This would have all been controller-throwing inducing if there was much to care about in this game in the first place.
Speaking of fighting, it’s not very good. The game does not have the depth of a Secret of Mana or the simple elegance of Zelda, hell it isn’t even satisfying in an arcade sense like a Gauntlet; it’s mind numbing and a chore. The combat is also inconsistent among the three classes. While they all play distinct enough from each other there is a lack of balance between them. There is an obvious advantage in using Yamato – the sword user – as she’s fast, has decent range and will create enough space from you and the enemy. This becomes very noticeable in later boss fights where getting swarmed by a litter of minions will overtake Uzume and Hinome – the bow and boomerang users, respectively – easily and it will be hard to recover if you choose either of those two. It also doesn’t help that the AI is incredibly brain dead, requiring very little skill in disposing most waves other than basic moral gumption. If I wasn’t required to take them out for the sake of gaining the needed energy reserves for unlocking gates and opening chests, I would’ve skipped it as much as I could have.
That being said, the boss fights are at least solid, with a couple of interesting designs that do there best to recreate those from Zelda’s of the past. They aren’t anything new in terms of boss fightamology and suffer from similar canned AI as normal spawn, but they at least require some sort of strategy other than straight mashing.
What makes this game’s disappointments harder to bear is the fact that it really knocks its aesthetics out with some incredible sprite work that really sets a reminder on why we gravitated to these games in the first place. Each of the 3 main characters is delivered beautifully, marrying ancient Japanese tradition, with current modern day sensibilities – you know: giant swords and headphones. Enemy designs are fairly cute, bosses look imposing, and while stage design is bland from a gameplay perspective, they are at least pleasing on the eyes.
The single best thing about this game though has to be its soundtrack. Sporting chiptunes that bring back fond memories of the games of yore, it runs the gamut of inspirations from RPG legends like the Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, to the up tempo beats of the Megaman series, it’s truly a standout body of work and a huge shame that it had to be wasted on such a lackluster final product.
2 out of 5
At $5 (USD) and with nostalgia laden frills, Kamiko has all the trimmings of what could make a little sleeper hit worthy of your time. Instead we get a short, uninspired, and most frustratingly, boring action game that borrows from the best of the past but cannot elicit the magic nor deliver on the execution of what makes those titles immortal. Nor can it be saved by its excellent visual design and incredible soundtrack.
Sometimes travelling back into the past makes you appreciate the present more, especially when the past is delivered as listlessly as this.