eShop veterans CIRCLE Entertainment have kicked off the Switch era with a bang, starting with the excellent rhythm game VOEZ and continuing with the colourful overhead action of Kamiko. Developed by Japanese indie team Skipmore — responsible for Fairune and its sequel on the 3DS eShop — Kamiko sports a gorgeous pixel-art aesthetic, Shinto-inspired style and three distinct, irresistibly smooth styles of play. It's short but very, very sweet, and well worth a go for anyone looking for a bit of action on the Switch.
Though it looks a bit like a Link to the Past-alike at first glance, Kamiko is, at its heart, more of an action game. You'll pick one of three special shrine maidens — sword-wielding Yamato, archer Uzume, or the hybrid Hinome, who fights with a boomerang mirror and dagger — and fight your way through levels filled with respawning demons and simple environmental puzzles; each is capped off with a boss. Defeating enemies earns you SP, which is used for special moves, triggering switches, keys and doors, as well as purifying shrine gates — which double as frequent save points.
Though there are only four areas each one is appreciably distinct, and Kamiko nails the feeling of gentle progression as you make your way through the game. The first stage starts out with spikes to avoid, and introduces you to its language of keys and switches; after you get the hang of each of these systems, the second level throws in teleport panels that play into its puzzles. Each level adds its own twists, which are put to thoughtful use without distracting from the main action, and they're even used in the boss battles — these are excitingly old-school, three-hit affairs with fun attack patterns.
Kamiko doesn't offer much beyond defeating enemies and heading towards the goal, but when the core gameplay feels as good as it does here that's more than enough. There's a wonderful speed and smoothness to the movements and attacks, and cutting your way across the landscape is effortless and fun. The left stick or D-Pad buttons are used to move, 'Y' or 'A' attack, and 'B' or any of the shoulder buttons can be held down to dash. Each character has her own special move, as well, activated by holding down the attack button and spending a bit of SP: Yamato whirls into a Link-style sword spin, Uzume fires off a burst of homing arrows, and Hinome sends her mirror swirling around her in a screen-clearing circle.
Part of what makes Kamiko so unique is that each of these three characters lends an entirely different flow to the game. With Yamato you'll dash your way from enemy to enemy in clean racing lines, with sword slashes punctuating each apex as you set your sights on the next group of foes. It feels a bit like manually aiming a series of homing attacks at high speed, and it's frenetic and fun. With Uzume you'll dash around enemies rather than towards them, keeping your distance in wide arcs and swerving between foes as you set up the distance to take them down with arrows without running into them; more like an avoid-'em-up than a hack-and-slash. Hinome, meanwhile, lends herself to a mix of the two styles: you'll throw out your mirror to cut a safe swath ahead, and then dash in to take care of remaining enemies at close range with your dagger; alternatively, you can toss the mirror out in one direction and head off with the dagger in another, letting it cut down intervening foes on its way back to you. Though the levels stay the same, the way you'll tackle and traverse them becomes distinct with each character.
Those differences also help extend the replay value of what is otherwise a very brief experience. A straight run through Kamiko's four worlds will take around an hour, but it's well worth returning with each character. We appreciate the short-but-sweet nature, honestly; there's not a moment of filler here, and the fact that you can replay the whole game in a single session makes it a much more appealing prospect. That's especially true if you have any sort of speedrunning tendencies — Kamiko records completion times for each individual stage and your overall run, and with the dash-heavy gameplay and character-specific strategies, we can see setting new records being a very enjoyable pursuit.
Whether you play for a few minutes or all the way through, one thing that really sticks out in Kamiko is its art direction. It takes its motifs from shinto imagery, with torii gates and kanji-covered stones enveloped by natural overgrowth, and it's all presented in a stunning pixel-art style, calling to mind a softer, pastel-tinted Hyper Light Drifter. Happily, it doesn't stop at pretty pixels — beautiful effects like solar flares, raindrops, and floating leaves pop out of the screen and bring each area to life. Even better, the gameplay's sense of momentum is mirrored in the graphics, with subtle screen-shake adding a satisfying weight to each slash or arrow hit, and blue petals of SP bursting out of enemies and converging back in on your character in a beautiful bloom; it really is incredible in motion.
Further adding to Kamiko's considerable sense of style is its chiptune soundtrack, which sets the mood with different themes in each level. It's retro-inspired, but more than a nostalgia play; the shimmering, synth-fronted arrangements are multilayered and lilting, and fit together perfectly with the noise-channel sound effects to create a lovely, cohesive soundscape.
Stunningly stylish and with an irresistibly kinetic sense of motion, Kamiko is a true gem. It's a quick ride, to be sure, but gorgeous pixel-art visuals, a lush soundtrack and three very different characters with plenty of speedrunning potential make it well worth coming back to. A uniquely appealing, action-packed package for less than the price of a prayer plaque, this is an easy recommendation for any Switch owner.