Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
Sometimes it’s enough for a game to do things just a little bit different. There are plenty of indie platformers out there where you shoot fireballs at monsters, fight elemental bosses, and roam open levels, enough that you can easily get sick of that format. But Kautic does all that its own way, with that reckless indie abandon that separates little gems from their unremarkable peers. Unfortunately, it also falls prey to that all-too-common pitfall of really questionable design decisions to go along with its uniqueness.
Kautic, as the game’s subtitle will cheerfully remind you, is the Bald Wizard. I have no idea how his hair situation impacts his spellcrafting but he can shoot fireballs and jump like a wire-fu artist. He has returned from a wizardly sojourn to find his townsfolk turned to stone by a great evil. To restore them to life he’ll have to purge the surrounding lands of said evil, including four great elemental beasts who are in no hurry to be dead. Along the way he’ll battle through hordes of familiar monsters, maybe collect a few hidden relics here and there, and probably get very, very lost a few times.
Beyond running and jumping and shooting, the main challenge in Kautic is finding your way around. There’s only one path out of your village (which you are going to get extremely familiar with), but it branches regularly into high and low paths. Eventually you end up with a small network of levels sprouting from the village and terminating in the four bosses you must defeat. Obviously in your first outing or two you’ll have no problem locating *a* boss, but after that it might take a few tries to locate the others on your hit list. Each one contributes to the completion rate of the game, along with the first kill you get against each enemy type. It’s an interesting way to track that sort of stat, and your restoration of the town is dependent on it as well.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is jumping and shooting against simple enemies you’ve probably seen before. You’ll battle giant plants that spray damaging spores, birds that swoop down upon you, worms that burrow up beneath you, and so on. Their patterns tend to be pretty apparent but they’re not all designed equally. A few like the worms and the ghosts can appear in ways that make them impossible to avoid, guaranteeing you’ll take some damage. Your life bar is extremely generous but it will get whittled down on your runs and there’s no way to refill it, and you have a limited number of lives before you get booted back to town. The difficulty levels only affect how many lives you get and I strongly suggest you stick with Easy your first time, which gives you three chances per outing.
These are the design decisions I mentioned earlier, the ones that tug at what’s otherwise a pretty solid little platformer. Understand that the core is indeed solid, with tight controls and a nice, big jump and a weapon that’s limited but effective. But the actual encounter design and level layout hint at inexperience in the genre, a weakness in crafting truly fair and logical challenges. Once you locate the bosses you’ll find them fairly simple to beat, and I was able to clear out all four within an hour. After that, though… I have to be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to beat the game! I tried some less-explored paths in the world but kept getting funneled into the same empty boss rooms. Nothing in the town seemed to change, so whatever it is I’m supposed to do to win may not be signposted clearly enough.
I didn’t find any of these issues deal-breakers with Kautic however, not even my confusion over the endgame. There’s a certain charm to it, from the familiar enemies and their simple pixel art to the tight controls and exploration. You’ll need to have some patience and understanding to get the most out of this one, but if you’re looking for an indie platformer you should be coming armed already. Kautic is built from pieces you’ve seen before but remixes them in new ways, just new enough to help it stand out. Be ready to do some searching and contend with some jank, but don’t be surprised if it’s pretty fun, too.