reviews

Review: One-Eyed Kutkh for ps4.

So as a games reviewer, I’ve always taken into account the time, money, creativity and effort that go into making a video game.  A team of people ranging in size somewhere between one (Lone Survivor and Axiom Verge) to approximately 650 million (Arkham Knight, Dead Space 2) spend YEARS of their time coding and writing and creating and drawing and building and rendering and testing and re-coding and debugging a game all for the purpose of releasing a product that’s either a mega-blockbuster AAA title or a shoestring-budget indie darling, an action experience or a beautiful story that stays with you for years.

Then they send it to assholes like me to praise it or rip it to shreds.  Now, I have probably the easiest job of anyone remotely connected to these games: I play a finished version of the title on an applicable console and drum up about 700-1,000 words about its sights, sounds and experiences.  But it’s a job I take seriously because of all those people who worked on it.  And unless it’s shovelware, those people worked really hard on it.  Even the publishing company, who may “only” be involved in publicizing the game, took a gamble and spent money and had marketing writers and graphic designers and advertising execs and social media managers spreading the word about said game.  So on the one hand, I don’t want to be unfairly negative and dump all over something unjustly.  At the same time, I strive to honestly critique games so as not to sound like a shill for any title that comes my way.  “Oh, who cares; it’s not like you’re (insert major critic here)!”  Yeah, but…Even if nobody reads this review, I’ll know.  Dig?

So I want to be sincere here and say that One-Eyed Kutkh is one of the most polarizing, love/hate relationships I’ve had with a game in recent memory.  So I’m gonna summarize the plot then do my pros and cons for the title.

In One-Eyed Kutkh, an adventure title, you play about half of the game as a one-eyed pink alien (whose name, I’m assuming, is Kutkh, unless that’s the name of his race of people and he’s the only cyclops among them?).  This big guy (or gal) is piloting a charmingly impractical spaceship which crashes onto the surface of a small planet inhabited by adorable fishermen who look like the lovechildren of Kenny from South Park and Jake from Adventure Time.  Weird, happy dandelion-looking people (the kind of dandelion you blow on) also inhabit this tiny world.  So, our shipwrecked pink alien friend needs to retrieve four missing gears from his spaceship in order to fix it and continue on his way.  In the other half, you play as one of the fishermen guys, which I’ll get back to.

one eyed kutkh 01

The art style on this 2-D point-and-click is really cool, ranging from almost-crayon-like backgrounds and childlike hand-drawn fish swimming in a pond to the more detailed residents of the planet.  The intentional impracticality of the character design and the thick stick-figure trees are the stuff that indie rock album art designers and story-based mobile game artists look at at night when they touch themselves.  The visual motif is complemented terrifically by the sound design, which is a cool mix of retro electronic music and people who speak gibberish that appears in word bubbles over their heads.  Looking at and listening to this game are all smiles.  If I had an extra hand I’d give it three thumbs up.

And yet the entire game is 40 minutes long.  Yes, you read that right.  40 minutes.  FORTY MINUTES.  At a stretch 40 minutes, 50 if you’re really drunk.  Those four gears you need to fix your spaceship?  You get three of them in the first two minutes of gameplay.  And the remaining 38 minutes don’t make much sense.  Pink alien friend puts the three gears in his ship, then he sees an invisible tunnel to dive into.  There are like four other exits from the tunnel, and three of them are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them scenes of life on the planet.  Go out one exit and there’s a fisherman asleep, so the game pulls you back into the tunnel.  Another one has a guy fishing.  Finally you go up a long pipe/tunnel sticking out of the planet that takes you to the top of a tree, and here’s where things stop making sense.  A vaguely sun-like creature and kind of a moon guy are each holding onto something – the sun’s is clearly the body of a UFO; the moon’s may be a party hat or a traffic cone – and your pink friend imagines putting them together and making a NEW ship to escape in.  In order to do this, he goes on board ANOTHER spaceship that’s just lying around and puts together three random pieces of junk, making a stick-figure statuette that he leaves in the spaceship and tells the moon and sun to go fight over.  He takes their spaceship bits and opts instead to just set them on top of his original spaceship, which is still missing the fourth gear.

one eyed kutkh 02

Then four villagers come out and don’t seem too upset that you’ve ruined their entire ecosystem, and you pick a villager to control.  This villager almost immediately pulls out from his pocket the missing gear from Pink’s spaceship and boards his OWN spaceship – which he only takes halfway up a large tree – and spends the next ten to 15 minutes asking the dandelion people in the tree and grazing reindeer for their help ascending the rest of the tree, for which he repeatedly offers to give them the gear – which nobody wants.  Then he finds himself where the sun and moon fought and goes all the way down to where Pink’s spaceship is and just…gives him the gear.

Game. Over.  As in, Pink takes off and suddenly you’re booted back out to the main menu with the option to play again.

I thought I hit a bad ending by mistake.  Like in Heavy Rain how you can accidentally kill all the protagonists and miss like half of the game without knowing it.  Or in Far Cry 4 how in the opening scene you can simply sit and enjoy the crab rangoon and Pagan Min comes back and wishes you a fond farewell.  But no.  I actually  played through it a second time, trying to visit the scenes in a different order and picking different fishermen to climb up the tree, and I ended up with an identical experience.

And the gameplay is even more bewildering.  You can interact with dozens of things – the swimming fish, spaceship gears growing on trees that nobody cares about, squawking birds – but they just wiggle.  Anything you can actually do is shown by a couple thought bubbles over Pink’s (or the fisherman’s) head.  Move left, move right and pick up are the three most common, but any time there seems to be a puzzle to solve, it’s actually just a drag-and-drop item placement thing.  Found a gear?  A picture of four gears of different sizes appears and you drag and drop the one you found into its likeness.  And that’s…it.

So I’m kind of at a loss.  The game looks and sounds so cool, and it’s only about the price of a latte, but what in the name of God happened to the gameplay and what’s going on on this planet?  Why make it possible to view its natives sleeping, fishing and hanging out for three to five seconds at a time?  What’s the purpose of picking a character halfway through the game if the play is identical regardless and you’ll only be with him for 10-15 minutes?  Why doesn’t Pink take one of the seemingly dozens of spaceships sitting around instead?  Why put another spaceship on his spaceship?  And once he does, why does he THEN resign himself to his fate and sit around?  Why are the sun and moon fighting over a bespoke metal doll?  Why does the game hold your hand through every moment of gameplay from the start to the finish?

And the thing that angers me the most is that the team that made the game clearly had the aesthetics nailed down tighter than bootleg booze during prohibition, and there’s an ocean-sized amount of room left untouched that could’ve been used for more classic point-and-click puzzles, or there could’ve been multiple planets/pit stops on the way, but instead, they just…sit there.

So I actually hate having to give this a crappy score, because of the things it clearly has going for it, but I can’t honestly recommend its 40-minute, occasionally-understandable journey.  My apologies to the developer, but I have to call One-Eyed Kutkh 5 out of 10.

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