This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
When talking about genres in video games, usually it evolves hyperboles like “X genre is dead!” or “Y genre is in the midst of a golden age!”, however I don’t particularly like this line of thinking; it simplifies so many things to a mind-numbing extend, but it is an exciting way of looking at something you love and I’m not going to say that I never do this myself, I just try not to. Puzzle games are an interesting genre at this moment in time, when seen from the perspective of innovation (or at least extra-ordinary games). In my view, there were 2 games that nailed an innovative idea alongside air-tight execution; 2018’s Gorogoa and 2019’s I am Baba. Since then, there has been lots of innovation and creativity in the genre (like 2020’s Murder by Numbers or Superliminal and Manifold Garden), but nothing that I feel has nailed the execution of those ideas or has reinvigorated my excitement for the genre; in the absence of that, I usually look for smaller and tighter experiences to fill that puzzle-shaped desire.
This year, in particular, I have found little to satisfy me; I get new Picross games (but they are more like getting a new collection of Sudoku puzzles rather than new sequels), I get the occasional deal here and there (recently it was Holedown on the Switch, which was excellent), but finally there is a new release I can get excited about! Fate of Kai is a great-looking, very short, puzzle game about Kai, a person who goes on an adventure; it’s a wordless narrative (with only a few lines for each chapter that set the mood rather than explain what is happening) and the story is very specifically about Kai learning to follow his dreams and think for himself. Point being, the story is not that important to this experience, but how it is presented to the player is. Fate of Kai is a ‘panel puzzle’ game, similar to Gorogoa, where the player looks at comic book panels and shapes them to get the desired outcome; in the case of Kai, the player has to insert the correct words in his thought bubbles, in order for Kai to do the right thing. It’s an interesting mechanic that works surprisingly well, for the most part; it gets a bit tiresome towards the end, as the game expands the complexity by requiring certain outcomes to unlock words, then backtracking to use those words. In particular, there is a section where the pages flip on a timer and the player needs to solve the puzzles within that time limit, and if they fail, they have to wait for the puzzles to reset; it’s an interesting expansion of the mechanics, but it is rather tiresome in execution. Regardless, the mechanics and family-friendly comic book presentation makes Kai a stylish and fun experience.
My only real concern is the pricing; this game looks hard to make (as do most games) and I don’t think the pricing is unfair compared to the effort it took to make, but I do thing most players will look at the 10-euro price tag and completion time of under an hour and not see the justification. I’m mixed on this: On the one hand, I can get the newest collection of Picross puzzles on Switch that will get me at least 30 to 40 hours of content, but on the other Kai is a beautiful game that serves a compact, tight, and solid execution of a great concept, and the time, commitment, and talent that requires clearly justifies the price; I got both experiences and value both greatly.
At the end of this year, I don’t think I will value Kai as much as I did The Witness, Gorogoa, or I am Baba, however not every game needs to be that ‘home run’ experience and some games just need to do a few things right for a short while, rather than all things perfectly. I just hope that the creators can take those ideas and that presentation and do more with it in the future, but until then Fate of Kai is a FINE appetizer for what’s to (hopefully) come.