Kamiko Review (Nintendo Switch)

The eShop artwork for Kamiko intrigued me: vibrant pixel art of a sword-wielding heroine overlooking a valley. The promise of Zelda-like action and adventure sweetened the deal. The alluring $4.99 price tag sealed it. Yes, I am a cheap date.

Despite its price tag, however, Kamiko never feels cheap. It features polished, fast-paced action gameplay with simple yet satisfying mechanics. When I reached the end, I was left wanting more—more levels, more story, more everything. It never overstays its welcome; in fact, it only lasts about four hours.

[Kamiko] features polished, fast-paced action gameplay with simple yet satisfying mechanics.

Characters

Thankfully, Kamiko has been designed with replay value in mind. I happily played through the game a total of four times—three for each of the playable characters—and a fourth to uncover secrets.

Select your shrine maiden!

The character you choose will affect your strategy: Yamato swings an enormous broadsword, making her ideal for close combat; Uzume cradles a bow and arrow for ranged attacks; Hinome bears a boomerang shield and dagger, giving her a mix of both styles. The title of “Kamiko” is bestowed by the gods at the start of the game, along with a charge to vanquish evil. Huzzah!

After playing two stages as Hinome, I took a break, then resumed playing as the sword-wielding Yamato. Talk about a shock to the system! Enemies that I had easily dispatched by throwing my shield now required multiple broadsword slashes at close range. Yamato takes a few steps forward with successive swings, so I had to be mindful of where I stood before attacking.

Switching characters does restart the adventure, but each’s maiden’s progress is saved and distinguished by her icon. My best clear time was with the archer Uzume. This is not because she controls the easiest—in fact, I found her the most challenging—but rather because I was familiar with all the stages by my third go-round.

Gameplay

Replaying the stages could have been a drag; instead, I found myself surprised. The experience felt brand new despite traversing what were now familiar labyrinths. I also had my first taste of speed running. To that end, stages conclude with a summary of your progress. If you like, you can enable a persistent onscreen timer that clocks every second.

Moving quickly is in fact an ability, called dashing. Dashing enables your maiden to zip around the stage like the Flash. This proved invaluable for Uzume, who needs to line up her shots. While I can only think of two instances where dashing was required to solve puzzles, I enjoyed the frantic nature of dashing and slashing.

Overall, combat is both addictive and important. The more monsters you slay, the more combo points you receive. Doors and treasure boxes can only be opened by expending these points, so it literally pays to do battle. Doing battle feels so good that I found myself slaying monsters for the fun of it. The sound effects and animations combine for an immensely satisfying experience.

Doing battle feels so good that I found myself slaying monsters for the fun of it.

For me, Kamiko finds a good balance between being too easy and being too difficult. If it does err, it does so on the side of minimalism. You will find no in-game tutorials except for a screen that describes button controls. The narrative is short enough that it could be summed up in a paragraph or two.

While I appreciate that the game neither holds your hand nor lops it off at the wrist, the inclusion of a few RPG elements would have helped transform the plot into a story.

We thankfully do have some insight into the shrine maidens, as provided on the character selection screen. One of the reasons I was eager to play through repeatedly was to see if I could unlock an altered ending or affect the narrative in any way. The only difference I found is that the character on the title screen changes to match the one with whom you most recently completed the game.

Exploration and experimentation are frequently rewarded. Indeed, they are vital to unraveling the game’s sensibilities. When I opened a chest and found an orb, I expected it to grant me health or power; no such luck (upgrades for your health and combo meter are more cleverly hidden).

Similarly, I was surprised that I had to carry keys over my head instead of keeping them in my inventory. These were pleasant deviations from genre staples, and I appreciate that the developers chose not to spell everything out.

The game never struck me as obtuse except for the “hidden sprites,” one of which I found by accident. You can ignore them if you wish—they are unrelated to the game but do add an extra goal for completionists like myself.

Generally, I found that the first stage provided sufficient context for learning the game’s later mechanics. New gamers may scratch their heads at times, but anyone can find success by employing this strategy: step on every switch, open every chest, push every block, and explore every nook and cranny.

Closing Thoughts

I admit, I was surprised by how quickly Kamiko came to an end. But then I found myself jumping in again to play as another character, and another, and finally a fourth time to find the “hidden sprites” (after stumbling upon the cheeseburger by accident). I was also motivated to unlock a sound test feature in the main menu.

Describing music is always a challenge, but rest assured: the game’s music is wonderful. Memorable, atmospheric chip-tunes alternately get your blood pumping and calm you into moments of contemplation (the third and second stages, respectively). The music may well be worth the admission price alone.

If you enjoy addictive gameplay and charming, lively graphics, give Kamiko a go. The art direction is solid throughout, and the groundwork has been laid for a sprawling saga. I do hope the developers follow up with a longer, more expansive sequel.

For now, we have a bite-sized adventure at a bite-sized price. Sounds tasty to me!

Read ’em and weep. These are my clear times.

Say something', will ya!

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