With the Virtual Console still nowhere to be seen, games are looking a little thin on the ground for Switch owners, leading some to scour the Japanese eShop for any potential hidden gems yet to make their way over to the west.
Such is the case with Kamiko, from Japanese indie developer ‘Skipmore”.
Recently released fully translated onto the Japanese eShop, Kamiko takes clear inspiration from the classic 2D Zelda games. Playing as one of a choice of three shrine maidens, players are tasked with removing demonic seals from a series of shrines that connect the human world to the world of the dead, thereby cleansing the world of the demon’s influence.
With this setup, the game quickly falls into a simple gameplay loop. Cleanse four shrines to move onto the boss. Defeat the boss to move onto the next level to cleanse more shrines. Rinse, repeat. It’s something of an achievement that a game that can be cleared under an hour can outstay its welcome and yet this routine, repeated over 4 visually distinct levels, quickly feels tired. What initially feels like refreshing simplicity in a market swamped with sprawling open worlds and 80 hour campaigns quickly gives way to a feeling of frustrated resignation. The fact that this game is clearly designed to be replayed with each of the three shrine maidens – With an added incentive to beat your best playtime, is damning.
These chores aren’t helped by the manufactured difficulty spikes within each level. Whilst the swarms of enemies usually pose little threat, the game makes the baffling decision to leave you defenceless whenever carrying an item. On each level, at least one shrine will be hidden behind a locked door, opened either via the use of a key, or by placing an orb on the correct platform. Where a kinder game would simply add such items to your inventory, Kamiko removes your ability to fight the constantly respawning enemies around you. Take a hit or try to put the key down, and it will disappear, forcing you to backtrack and collect it again. As levels frequently require you to pass through bottlenecks, where you’ll inevitably be attacked, unlocking doors frequently becomes a war of attrition.
To add insult to injury, as much the game wishes to recreate that retro feel, it’s in desperate need of modern features, such as a minimap – Or indeed a map of any kind. As you’ll be focused on avoiding enemies, it’s easy to get lost on one of the many branching paths of each level. That two minutes you’ve spent trying to haul the orb to its pedestal might come to an end with the realisation you’ve been moving in the wrong direction.
Perhaps most frustratingly of all, the game refuses to commit to being bad. Indeed, Kamiko is almost a game of two halves. Whilst the level exploration varies from the tedious to the frustrating, the boss battles are rather exceptional. Taking influences from the best of early Zelda games, each boss is a delight, each a mini-puzzle to be solved, increasing with complexity as the fight goes on. The enemy design takes a sudden uptick in quality during these fights too. Divorced from the various “flying ball with eyes” that litter the preceding levels, each boss looks and acts in new and interesting ways. It feels a shame that Kamiko didn’t take more inspiration from Acid Nerve’s Titan Souls by doubling down on these boss battles, abandoning the rest of the game entirely.
The combat is also worthy of praise. Whilst a simple one button affair, there’s a surprising amount of variety and satisfaction to be found. Yamato is your swordswoman, Archer Uzume fires a succession of arrows – up to three at a time, whilst Hinome throws her shield at enemies, like the anime world’s answer to Captain America.
Attacking enemies feels surprisingly weighty for a top down, retro-style game. A combo system (with an increase of SP earned for each kill), plus a slight but very noticeable shake of the camera as you hit an enemy keeps an otherwise basic combat system feeling unexpectedly enjoyable. This camera effect – referred to ingame as the “Quake Effect” can be turned off in the pause menu (Presumably for motion sickness concerns), but it’s worth leaving on if you can stomach it.
Whilst some of the enemy design seems a little basic, the character design of the three maidens is suitably charming, and each of the four distinct levels are colourful enough to be enjoyed until the irritation of exploring them settles in. The soundtrack too, though not likely to win any awards, perfectly scratches a nostalgic itch without ever being too noticeable as to be distracting.
Whilst the supposed correlation of a game’s price to its quality is something of a fallacy, it is worth noting that Kamiko is just 500 yen (Around £3.60 of your Brexit Bucks). In fact, the busywork involved in buying the game from the Japanese store is perhaps more of a sacrifice than the 500 yen. There’s a decent guide to buying Japanese eShop codes here for anyone who’s interested.
Anyone who is desperate for a retro game on the Switch (or anything that isn’t Zelda) may be willing to overlook the game’s flaws in light of its low price point, but to many it’ll serve as a reminder that we’re still awaiting the launch of the Virtual Console so we can play better retro games. Either way, there’s still plenty here to enjoy if you’re willing to be a little patient with it, given its low price tag.
6/10 – Average.