It could’ve been jazzed up a bit more.
Kine is a game that makes an incredible first impression. From the bold, colorful graphics to the wonderful jazz soundtrack, it’s got a style that I fell in love with from the moment I first saw its announcement trailer. Unfortunately that first impression was the high point of the experience for me, as the game really struggled to hold things together more and more as it went on. A 3D puzzle game about moving characters around a grid, Kine requires a demanding level of spatial awareness that its controls and setup struggle to keep up with, causing the adventure to grind to a horrible, frustrating halt all too often.
In Kine, you control three characters: Euler, Roo, and Quat - a trio of robotic instruments trying to form a band and make it big. Each character has different quirks to change their shape and affect how they roll around the grid-based puzzles. Quat can extend his cymbals from side to side to push across walls or increase his height, Roo can adjust her appendages to extend either to her sides or behind her, and Euler can slide his trombone tubes in and out to different sides. Obstacles in each puzzle are built around maneuvering each character’s shape carefully to get around walls and over gaps.
The introductory puzzles do a very good job of easing you into the mechanics, and they’re the most fun part of the game because of it. Each character starts out separated from each other with their own series of puzzles before finally joining up at the end of the prologue. Once all three characters have been united, things start to break down a lot as the stages collapse under the weight of all the moving parts you need to keep track of. Keeping in mind exactly how all three characters can change their shape, what shape they need to be in on a particular square in the grid, which side of a character will be upright once they get to a particular square - eventually it just gets totally overwhelming. The difficulty takes a huge spike as soon as you need to control more than one character. I found it nearly impossible to actually plan ahead and think through the stages because of how far I had to think ahead before making a single move, and I solved more puzzles through blind trial and error than I did through careful planning and cleverness.
The crazy difficulty is exacerbated by a few quality of life issues that are minor on their own, but extremely frustrating when paired with how tough the game can get. The first is the camera, which feels over-tuned to being played on a mouse instead of a controller. While actually holding the right stick, the camera can be moved freely to any angle, but as soon as you let go it will snap back into the nearest cardinal direction. This limits the perspectives you can have on the puzzle in a way that feels like you really should be able to see more. It also takes dreadfully long to reset a puzzle to its starting position. Considering it’s possible for many puzzles to become unsolvable with the wrong moves - and no clear way to know when exactly they became unsolvable - this grinds the pace of the game to a halt as soon as you hit your first brick wall with a puzzle. Not every puzzle in Kine is bad, and the majority that don’t have all three characters together are actually quite good. But the bad puzzles are so incredibly frustrating and feel so much more difficult than anything that came before them that they overshadow the entire game. It never feels good to solve a puzzle through sheer trial and error, and while every puzzle game has one or two duds there are just too many in Kine to allow for the good puzzles to feel worth it. It’s a shame that such a beautiful aesthetic was wasted on this, because the game is not nearly as exciting as the jazz riffs that accompanies it.