[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nd so, another strong indie title has graced the Nintendo Switch. KAMIKO, developed by Circle Entertainment, Kan-Kikuchi, and SKIPMORE, looks and feels like a top-down Zelda in many ways. The game has that arcade feeling to it, but it’s far more forgiving. The game was published by Flyhigh Works in mid-April on the Switch in Japan only. Thankfully, it was out on North American and European eShops just two weeks later.
KAMIKO lets you play as one of three warrior priestesses, each gifted a different holy weapon to fight demons. You’ll make your way through four stages, purifying gates and solving puzzles until you reach each stage’s boss. The game is short, but it seems to be extremely replayable, so let’s dive in and see what makes this game work so well.
KAMIKO’s Familiar Gameplay
So it’s probably not hard to imagine how the gameplay works, already. You run around, smacking enemies with whatever weapons you have and try not to get smacked in return. That’s not wrong, but it severely under-represents what actually makes KAMIKO play the way it does.
First, you select a character to play. The girls you can pick vary in combat style. Yamato has a giant sword that’s very simple and works similarly to Zelda. Uzume is an archer, which gives her more range than Yamato, but her attacks are slower. Attacking three times in a row unleashes more arrows than just one. Then there’s Hinome. She throws her shield like a boomerang, which can one-shot opponents. However, this is slow and has some start up, which means you have to be careful using it. While her shield’s out, she can stab outwards up to two times with her dagger while her shield to returns. You can think of this as Yamato being easy mode, Uzume being medium, and Hinome hard.
Also, you have three meters to keep track of and your health works as normal. Getting hit depletes your health while finding gems will restore it. There’s your spirit or magic gauge, which allows you to open doors and chests, purify shrines, and use each character’s super move. You do super moves by holding down attack until your character lights up and releasing. Each one is different, but Yamato’s is essentially the Hurricane Spin attack from Wind Waker. The third meter is a combo meter that counts up each time you slay an enemy before the bar drops. If you get hit or fail to kill an enemy before the time bar is empty, your combo starts over.
How the Core Mechanics Change the Way You Play
So as we mentioned before, there’s a combo meter, but why? Each time you slay an enemy, you get spirit energy back. It costs 50 energy to open things, 100 to purify gates, and 150 to do a super move. Although you don’t need the full cost for the super move, it drains that much if you have it. As you start with a max of 200 spirit and can only get up to 400 by the end, it’s important that you keep collecting spirit energy as you go.
That’s where the combo meter comes in. The higher your combo is, the more spirit energy you’ll gain from each kill. By racking up a huge combo, it’s easy to refill your entire combo meter in a matter of seconds. There was one point during a boss, where using Yamato’s spin attack, we kept all of the spirit energy we used up because the combo meter was so high and there were plenty enemies.
This encourages players to emphasize speed. They dash around, rack up a higher combo, and won’t have to grind for spirit energy, later. This seems to work particularly well in KAMIKO because the game also tracks your time on each stage and overall. So, players get faster to get better times and it makes the overall game last a little longer! It left an overall good impression.
This only ever feels like it gets in its own way is during the timed bridges that appear in three stages. The controls are a little loose, which means you can run into a wall or doorway and get stuck for just a second and that’ll stop you from making it across. This hardly ruins the game, but it’s a small blemish on an otherwise perfect gameplay experience.
Visuals and Sound Design
On top of playing well, this game looks and sounds amazing. The chiptune soundtrack is absolutely one of the highlights to the point that I greatly recommend looking for the hidden item in each stage so you can unlock the sound test in the main menu. On top of that, the visuals are crisp and clean. Colors stand out, making this game very playable in tabletop or handheld modes. In fact, it almost feels like the game was designed to be played on a handheld. This is probably the one thing this game gets right more than anything else.
Story and Content
So even as much as this game got right, there had to be a weak spot, and that’s the story. The story isn’t especially compelling and will most likely just get skipped over after your first playthrough. The gods have come down to a warrior priestess of your choice to offer her a holy weapon so she can fight and banish evil spirits. She must travel to four gates in each stage to purify the land of evil. There’s one point at the end where the evil spirits call into question the motives of the gods, but nothing ever comes of that.
It almost felt like there was supposed to be a final stage unlocked at the end that utilized all three characters when you completed the game with each one, but nothing of the sort happened. That left the game feeling a little bit TOO short. KAMIKO could’ve really benefited from more stages or a secondary campaign. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t vary much of anything aside from enemy placement. Even then, the same enemies still appear in the same areas. They just shift around slightly based on where you enter from.
Thankfully, the gameplay feels so great that this minimal content is extremely replayable. After five or six runs, though, it still loses its charm.
Overall, KAMIKO is a really good game. The developers did an amazing job refining the gameplay and core mechanics to emphasize speed. The soundtrack is beautiful and the visuals really stand out on any screen. The only real drawback is that the story didn’t get the love it needed and left the content feeling really short. For the low price this game demands, however, I don’t think I could recommend this enough. The game is incredibly replayable, and you will more than get your $5 worth. Give it a look, if you haven’t, already