I’m not a puzzle game person. It takes a pretty special combination of visual flair and brain-teasing to get me hooked. Kine, a new puzzle game by solo developer Gwen Frey, has both the challenge and heart that I’m looking for. It’s difficult, funny, and has jazzy flair.
In Kine, players take control of a variety of characters whose designs are based on musical instruments, from accordions to drum kits. Players then must rotate these characters through a blocky grid and reach each level’s exit. That seems straightforward enough, but each character’s unique shapes and quirks makes this a challenge. Quat, the drummer, is shaped like a box but has long cymbals on each side that can smash about. Shoot those cymbals over a gap and he can snap to the other side. That’s useful, but their large length when shot outwards also limits how cleanly he can roll to the next space on the block grid. Mastering each character’s unique movements and abilities is important, as even the early levels build up to some complicated final puzzles. In theory, you’re just rolling around. In practice, a simple design element like a ceiling can radically alter how you manage to move. Kine gets great mileage out of even the smallest tweaks, which is exactly what you want to see in a puzzle game.
It’s also just really cute. The character are energetic and bubbly, flipping around with musical crashing sounds and happy banter. The entire game is accompanied by a light jazz score that builds in complexity as players progress. Even when you’re bashing your head against a puzzle, Kine looks and sounds fun. That’s an underappreciated but key component to a good puzzle game. If I’m gonna get stumped, I want to feel comfortable while I’m thinking things through or experimenting. A charming atmosphere is key to that, and Kine nails it.
I’ve played some pretty intense games lately, like Ghost Recon Breakpoint and Death Stranding. Kine is a breath of fresh air in a market full of serious AAA excess. It’s challenging and silly, with a bright and energetic feel that will please even the pickiest of puzzle players. You can pick it up right now in the Epic Games Store, consoles including the Nintendo Switch, and it will eventually be part of Google Stadia’s lineup.