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The girl who lived: KIN review

Dropped into an abstract world filled with mysterious threats and countless wonders, you must guide a lost girl through a gauntlet of challenges to unfurl a distant story and smack a lot of robots in the face.

KIN is a gentle-looking puzzle-platformer similar in structure to Lucky’s Tale – from your place in VR as overseer, you can survey the land and soak in some soothing sights whilst you guide your lost charge past obstacles and enemies. There’s something wonderful about the ability to look up and see an alien sky, or gaze into the ocean and see silhouettes of circling sharks. A faithful robot drone follows in your footsteps, displaying your health and lives, highlighting clues in the environment, and every control has a satisfying sound and animation attached. It sort of feels like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a mature, artistic platformer with visual design that belies the challenge ahead. Not to belittle its aesthetic or compare it to a child’s game – KIN’s visuals are used to tell a story and they’re brilliantly done.

Environments start off simple enough but rapidly become layered and complex, with plenty of obstacles demanding precise timing.

It is a beautifully crafted world that makes what you need to do to progress perfectly clear. Actually getting to the destination is another story, as KIN is so often much more challenging than it looks on the surface. All the gentle nature sounds and pleasing tactile responses from jumping and using your tools sort of lull you into a sense of false security, making you want to stop and smell the roses when in reality you should be a nonstop blur of dodge rolls and sword swings. Your character is fragile, and often one wrong move will land you back at the start at the level. You never lose too much progress but by that same token it can be hard to make any in the first place (No KIN is the Dark Souls of VR jokes please). It gives the ever-expanding maps a tense feel, quickfire rounds of darting and striking out at increasingly complex puzzle mechanics.

They’re broken up by boss encounters, which to be honest feel like a much better use of the combat mechanic than the enemies that litter the maps. They have the same amount of challenge with less of the “go f**k yourself” nature of many of the common enemy encounters you’ll have to repeat after either getting shunted off of a ledge or completely disintegrated. Bossfights have a marvelous sense of scale and the encounters constantly evolve, throwing out new threats at a pace that demands keen responses. It almost becomes a rehearsed dance.

It’s always clear what’s going to hurt you and what’s just part of the scenery, which is something a lot of games with this sort of design struggle with.

With the perspective you have, fighting the sheer number of different enemies thrown in your way can feel a little needlessly difficult – you’re often fighting on precipices and peaks and with your only method of defense being a sprawling roll, you often have to choose between flinging yourself off of a ledge or getting blasted to bits. When you finally clear a map, it’s satisfying, but you’ll definitely curse your own reflexes more than a few times along the way.  I found myself playing in short bursts rather than one long session, and for once it wasn’t due to VR sickness – more just frustration at a particularly tough enemy configuration. Of course, there are probably going to be people reading this thinking “You just suck, I cleared that game in an hour”, and they’re probably right – but I consider myself a mildly average gamer so hopefully my experience translates in that regard.

KIN is beautiful. It uses art and music to weave an ephemeral story and is quite frankly a feast for the eyes. When I think back on it though, I remember the frustrations a little more than the fun, and whether that’s just down to my own failures playing it or odds that are stacked permanently against you, I can’t quite distinguish. It’s all presented in such a stunning way that completely confuses the senses, on the surface purely relaxing and calming, and yet so aggravating, sort of like the undercurrent of a still sea. If you’re looking for a genuinely challenging platformer, you’ll love the hell out of KIN – but if you’re looking to kick back and enjoy some gentle colours and tunes, give this one a miss (or lurk in the first few maps for all eternity).

THE TL;DR:

  • Incredible to look at, challenging to play – an odd mix but it works well.
  • Combat can definitely feel overwhelming sometimes, taking place in small arenas with several foes and few methods of defense.
  • Astonishing boss fights that make fantastic use of combat mechanics and abilities.
  • A story told subtly and well through the VR medium.

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