Kôna: Day One is an interactive game that casts players as Carl Faubert, a detective trying to solve a mysterious case in the frigid north. Things get complicated quick however, and piecing it all together takes a bit of doing.
In traditional adventure game style, the game from developer Parabole is all about gathering clues and items to solve puzzles of various shapes and sizes. For example, how do you fix a generator outside the general shop? All it takes is opening several drawers and finding the appropriate items. And where’d the man you were supposed to meet go? Why isn’t he here? A well-placed note explains all.
One hazard of these kind of games is finding an important tidbit only to completely forget about it by the time it’s actually useful. Kôna solves this by providing a time period-appropriate Polaroid camera that can snap pictures to check later. But there’s also a somewhat less easily fixed problem with these kind of puzzles.
See, for these puzzles to work, the trail of breadcrumbs has to be easy enough to follow without being entirely simplistic. Generally speaking, the idea is that the player can figure it out with a little effort, but one thing should really lead to the next. Discovery and all that is necessary when trying to build a sense of mystery.
Which is where the current incarnation of Kôna falls flat. More than once I found myself shuffling through the variety of items I’d found and the objects I could interact with without any clear path forward. I’m not saying I’m brilliant or anything, but solutions were slightly more obtuse than expected. Rather than feeling challenged, I merely felt frustrated. That kind of breaks the mood the developer was going for - though they are aware of all this and intend to tweak things further before release.
The game itself is currently a bit rough around the edges. The journal - where the Polaroid snapshots are kept - wasn’t working during my demo. The map, which is almost necessary to decide on where to go next, had a bug where several vertical lines obscured it after a certain point. There were several other hiccups throughout, though none were bad enough to entirely break the game.
Which is maybe why it might be surprising to hear that I actually rather enjoyed the demo overall. The frozen people - the center of the surreal mystery of Kôna - were intriguing enough to pique my curiosity, and the design of the buildings, items, and even the sudden snowstorm gave the whole thing a sort of rustic charm.
One tiny thing that just felt right? When backing up in the truck, Faubert puts his arm on the back of the seat as the camera shifts to look out the back window. It’s not super useful - the truck bed makes it difficult to really see anything out there beyond the falling snow - but it is an oddly satisfying mechanic that could have easily been overlooked or ignored.
Kôna: Day One is set to offer beta access on February 8th and launch Q1 2016 for PC, Mac, and Linux.