Someday, the 90s will make a huge comeback. Until that time, we’re firmly in the era of Stranger Things and other 80s nostalgia. Kite fits right in. Soaked in neon pastels, Kite is 80s retro from the graphical style to the story. Beneath all the aesthetics, you’ll find a fun, fast-paced twin-stick-style shooter.
In the far-off future, weapons are a thing of the past – except at top secret military bases, unknown to the world at large. There, scientists are developing next-generation weapons and robotics. That’s where you come in. You are a pilot of a blonde mech-woman with a crazy haircut that makes Gerald from Hey Arnold look tame. After one such top-secret base goes amok, you have to rescue the scientists, shut down the weapons, and restore order. The plot is somewhere between Contra and Total Recall. It’s very much a red meat kind of action movie, with inexplicably weird Sci-Fi, and pink. Lots and lots of pink, and turquoise, and other colors that went out of fashion in the post-Michael Jackson world.
That’s the main takeaway of Kite. The 80s is strong with this one. The graphics are retro to the extreme and would be right at home on the SNES or the Sega Genesis. Retro graphics are fun. I’ve sunk as many hours into Minecraft as any PC gamer. The problem is when modern design sensibilities clash with that old school style. Kite is very nearly sunk by its busy screens. Pixels blast everywhere – bullets, smoke, fire, robots, allies – there’s so much going on! If this were a 3D shooter, perhaps it would make more sense, but as a top-down twin-stick shooter, it overwhelms. The game moves too fast, and requires too much precision to bombard the senses with so much clutter. It makes the game harder to play, and the effect is aesthetically unpleasant.
“No one tool dominated the gameplay, but who doesn’t love a laser-axe or a triple firing plasma blaster that shoots in an arc?”
It’s really a bummer for the style to clash so hard with the substance of the game because mechanically, Kite is great. There are multiple types of weapons, and switching on the fly is a breeze. There are just enough gameplay systems to inspire a bevy of strategies, but not so many that you ever forget your capabilities. You have to manage your characters speed, shields, ammo type, and rate of fire. Do you want a continuous laser while you focus power into the shields? Or do you want to zip around with a sub-machine gun? Combine that with the already fun story, groovy music, and intelligent upgrade system, and Kite is a game worth checking out.
And the game truly is groovy. Upgrades have unique synergies, and levels can be replayed to unlock more upgrade points. I was compelled to go back to earn a better score and was delighted at the different surprising combinations of weapons. No one tool dominated the gameplay, but who doesn’t love a laser-axe or a triple firing plasma blaster that shoots in an arc? That’s classic arcade shooter stuff, and I really dig it.
Unfortunately, those frustrating elements also had a way of creeping into the gameplay. Often, you have to blast away fences and vines to figure out the route forward. Those were the most stressful moments of the game for me (in a bad way). Figuring out which vines were destructible while I was under fire from a regenerating turret and a legion of little drone-things was too much. The only way to beat enemies is often to find a way forward, which means figuring out the confusing level layouts and disabling a generator or control panel or whatever. It seems like an easy fix, removing some clutter, but Kite wants to revel in the excesses of its era for better and for worse.
All of that said, I recommend Kite. It’s often thrilling, and there are so many good ideas under the hood, that enduring some of the frustration still leaves you with a unique action game experience. Take it as a cautionary tale. This is what happens when a game is too excited about style, and prides it over gameplay.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
- Silly, delightful story
- Retro 80s aesthetic
- Lots of weapon and build variety
- Overwhelmingly busy graphics
- Hard to find the main path
- Might be too fast for some