Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Tales Art Studio
Release Date: Q1 2020


PC Preview - 'Kumo'

by Cody Medellin on March 9, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Kumo is an emotional game about a young boy on his journey to a second chance where you'll explore a beautiful world, solve puzzles, meet a cast of strange characters and unravel a story of hope and despair.

Journey is often cited as the indie game that made exploration and puzzle-solving an artform. The wordless trek through the desert was brilliant in subtle ways, and the open interpretation for the plot and the ending hooked people to the point where there were several different interpretations for an experience shared by a wide audience. Several games on the PC have attempted to recapture this spirit with varying degrees of success, and the latest one to try is Kumo from Tales Art Studio.

According to the game's Steam page, Kumo tells the story of a boy trapped in a world that may or may not be limbo. Through the guidance of those who came before him, he must solve various puzzles to open up pathways that may hopefully lead to his escape from the otherwise beautiful world he now occupies.

For the most part, the game makes good on the promise of solving puzzles to progress. A few of those include touching glyphs to open passageways or touching glowing domes to move platforms. Others, like one involving arrow orientation and one where you need metal rings to glow, are easy enough to solve and do a good job of revealing passageways for further travel. Since this is the early part of the game, one would expect the puzzles to be simple, so it'll be interesting to see if the trend continues as we delve further into the journey.

Unfortunately, the demo isn't in great shape. We saw loads of texture pop-in and lots of rough-looking placeholder models. The camera constantly zooms in and away from the character without any rhyme or reason, and there are many times when parts of the environment obscure the camera's view. The musical track is good, but the game has no other sound effects, so Kumo is in more of a pre-alpha state than something worthy of a public demo.

The lack of sound effects also feeds into an overall lack of feedback for all of the puzzles you're trying to solve. It isn't going to be that difficult for fans of these platforming exploration games to figure out, but it makes the puzzles needlessly tricky for everyone else. Also contributing to this is a camera system that fails to indicate where you should be looking. One good example of this is a switch puzzle where you rotate rings until they glow so you can fill the rivers with water. Unless you're observant and swing the camera around at the right time to see the rings glow, you'll have no idea what you're doing with the switches. This isn't a call to hold players' hands through these challenges, but this level of obscurity takes things too far in the other direction.

The overall character movement is also very clunky. The animations alone make it look like the boy is stumbling through everything, such as his awkward running motion, an inability to climb up ledges, and double-jumps that look like they're from an old PSOne game. It doesn't help that his other movements are slow, from the glyph activation to shimmying across thin ledges, and you can't leap unless you're at the designated spot. The movement is bad enough that it can drive away interested parties.

The final complaint about the demo has to do with the scarf. In the promotional trailers, the scarf seems like an important thing, as you'll guide a bunch of them as they fly around the land. In the demo, there doesn't seem to be any place where this is useful. You can use them to view the environment, but they aren't revealing anything you couldn't find just by walking around. Furthermore, the camera is focused so tightly on them that it is possible to get disoriented.

The rough state of the demo makes it difficult to give Kumo a fair shake. The puzzles are easy enough to figure out, but they're made artificially difficult by technical issues, like a lack of sound or cameras that fail to point to something useful. The rough presentation and performance could be forgiven if the overall movement didn't feel so clunky, and the flying cape feature seemed to serve no purpose at the moment. There's still plenty of time to get things right, as the game doesn't have a final release date, but for now, look out for Kumo with extreme caution.

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