Kami Retro, by Gamevil and Paw Print Games, is a psychedelic-looking little game which combines aspects of platforming games like Mario and ‘find the exit’ games like Lemmings (this description of the game has been done to death, but it really is the best way to describe it). The result is an original, addictive puzzle/platformer which is high on fun but not without its hair-pullingly difficult moments.
Like many of the most financially successful titles for iOS to date, Kami Retro is one part “pick up and play,” mixed with one part “wait, just one more time.” The goal is to guide your hero to the exit of each stage, using various placeable stage elements, such as trampolines, bounce pads, giant fans, cannons, and the like. Each level essentially has two parts: you must first solve the puzzle by positioning the provided set-pieces in such a way that you can have your hero navigate the stage and reach the exit. Next, you must guide your avatar through the stage, performing increasingly precise jumps and turn-arounds in order to avoid the many environmental perils which stand between you and victory. Your avatar will automatically move forward on his own, so the player’s task is to make him jump or turn around at the appropriate moment. To make matters more difficult, each stage provides the player with four little dudes to guide to the exit, who spawn from the entrance point at regular intervals. This interval of time remains constant, even as the levels become increasingly complex and demand more and more precision, so by the later stages you can expect to be frantically flicking and tapping the screen as you try to guide as many of your heroes as possible towards the exit. In order to pass a stage, you must only reach the exit once, but in order to achieve the highest possible score (earning stars which go towards unlocking subsequent sets of levels), you must guide all four avatars to safety.
I feel like I should put it out there: I’m no wiz-kid at puzzle games, and I tend to get frustrated with them fairly easily, especially ones that have linear solutions. I can get down on something like Tetris or Bust-a-Move, where play skill boils down to a factor of reflexes, simple geometric reasoning, and endurance. That’s because in those games, there is no “getting stuck”– you just hold on for as long as you can, until you inevitably succumb to the unbeatable odds. But I can get pretty discouraged in games like Kami Retro and its ilk when I reach a level I’m unable to get past, because I don’t like the feeling of bottlenecking too much before I’ve beaten a game… And although Kami Retro provided me with a few frustrating moments, I found it to be very enjoyable altogether. The level of challenge is pretty intense (especially if you want to get a three star rating on each level, an achievement which I honestly think I’m never going to even attempt), but the game does a good job of holding your hand at just the right points, so you never feel truly lost.
All in all, despite not being exactly my usual cup of tea, this game did a good job of winning me over. There were moments when I got so frustrated I had to take a nice long break from the game, but usually the level I was stuck on would seem much more beatable when I came back to it. Although in the end I have a few quibbles, I really enjoyed the way in which Kami Retro combines geometric puzzle-solving gameplay with old-school side-scroller platform hopping action.
Wacky Aesthetics- Kami Retro looks like an acid-trip-homage to 8-bit gaming, with just enough of a modern flair to keep it from being boring or overly familiar. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of ‘cute’ games, but Kami Retro nails this look right on the head, with bright vibrant colors, goofy pixel art, and maybe just a few visual references to the world of gaming’s favorite Italian-American plumber.
Unique Blend of Gameplay- I really enjoyed the way that Kami Retro combines puzzle-solving gameplay with good old Mario-esque platform hopping. Each level must essentially be solved and then played through, and your jumping skills are equally important as your puzzle solving chops, in your quest to collect the bonus stars and reach the exit with as many of your four men as possible. Also, the game’s platforming element serves to somewhat relax the demand to solve each puzzle with 100% precision, since you can sometimes jump your way to victory despite not having built a very good structure for your character to bounce his way along. There were a few levels where I wasn’t able to find the “correct” solution, but I was still able to ham-fistedly navigate one man to the exit door and move on to the next stage thanks to my platforming pedigree.
Cramped Controls- Although the game’s swipe-based controls are adequate to the task, they become somewhat burdensome on the later levels. Sometimes you will tap a springboard or a fan when you’re trying to get your guy to jump or turn around, which nearly always leads to death (and potentially having to reset the object you may have moved). When you’re tasked with trying to control two dudes at once (as is often the case in some of the later stages of the game), it becomes especially hard to maintain the level of precision necessary to make all your jumps. To some degree, this is the point. The developers were obviously trying to make a challenging game, and in this they succeeded. And overall, it’s still very fun. But sometimes I felt that between the frantic pace of the later levels and the high level of precision demanded in some stages, I was claustrophobically and frantically swiping around the screen without being able to get much control over the characters.
Questionable Replay Value- Whether or not you will want to replay this game honestly depends on what kind of gamer you are. If you love going back and continually trying to perform the same task more and more precisely, you will probably find yourself compelled to try for a perfect three star rating on each stage. Personally, I was just happy to beat them all. While for the most part, I had a lot of fun with the game, in no way do I feel compelled to go back to some of the hardest stages and try to ace them. I was happy to get one guy to the exit door on some of these levels; I can’t really fathom the level of perfectionism it would take me to get all four guys to the exit and collect all the bonus stars. On the other hand, this is exactly the sort of thing some people go in for, and you probably know who you are.
In short, Kami Retro deserves the critical praise it’s been getting. It blends some quite familiar styles of gameplay into a distinctive little treat of a game, that’s great for short sessions. The amount of time you spend with this title might ultimately depend on the level of perfectionism you apply to your gaming, but it’s appealing enough to get the nod of recommendation to anyone with a fondness for puzzles, platformers, or just plain old 8-bit nostalgia.