by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
On the good side
Short, sweet and dripping with a dark nineties mystique, Kathy Rain is all about harking back to those point and click adventure games of old. There is certainly an ever growing list of indie developers plying their trade by adding to the plethora of nostalgia-inducing retro point and clicks. Some rely utterly and completely on that nostalgia to see them through but fortunately there are plenty of examples that plug for the retro-adventure rehash being a genre in and of itself. Kathy Rain is not without its flaws, but it largely falls on the side of the good when it comes to chucking itself on the expanding pile.
I’ll begin with story and setting, those two factors being ever the main tent pole of this style of game. In Kathy Rain we find ourselves thrust into the angsty life of Kathy, a ‘strong-willed’, cigarette smoking, motorcycle riding ‘badass’. We begin with the mysterious death of Kathy’s grandfather, which prompts both the return to her town of birth as well as a quest to uncover its secrets. The game becomes as much about exploring Kathy and the things that made her such a closed individual, as it does about the deep secrets of her hometown. This is where Kathy Rain surprised me a little. It’s very easy to start off perceiving Kathy as a 2D cliché of a moody alternative biker girl. But throughout the game’s shortish length we actually get to find out there is slightly more nuance to this girl than at first meets the eye. As the mystery is somewhat stripped away from the overarching story, Kathy becomes more and more of a real person. This is refreshing in what can be a genre overflowing with bland lifeless characters who act as a vehicle to explore a world and puzzles.
Ultimately the payoff could have hit home a little stronger though. For all the growing mystery and intrigue, a lot of things are left only hinted at. This is in part thanks to Kathy herself and her unwillingness to look too closely at some sensitive and personal matters. Otherwise, this is a tale that takes you beyond the real gritty world of our titular biker girl and into something a little more unusual. I couldn't get away from the sense that there was more closure to be had by the end, and perhaps things could have been padded out and rounded up a little more.
When it comes down to the aforementioned, retro style of Kathy Rain, this is a solid pixelated effort. Despite the old school look and feel, the developers have managed to squeeze a visually engaging colour palette into the game. A lot of what you’ll see will be dark and gloomy, but within that there’s a depth and charm to the game look that certainly immersed me in the world. The strong visuals are coupled with a fitting and strong accompanying soundtrack that matches the overall style. The game features a fully voiced script, which is becoming a more common addition to these retro style games. It seems people are super quick to jump back into retro gaming as long as it doesn't require the same amount of reading it used to. But that being said, the acting in Kathy Rain is quite strong, with nothing coming across too forced despite some of the side characters being a little less well developed than our protagonist.
The game’s mystery wouldn't be complete without a few ‘mysterious’ puzzles to solve. The game throws a decent level of challenge at you when it comes to tackling its trickier bits. For the most part there is a logic to solving almost everything here and the difficulty seems to progress throughout. The game also does a reasonable job of keeping you on the right track. Often, old point and click adventures had me stumped to the point of giving up. Infuriatingly, it was not unusual to find out later that the solution was some obscure combination of things only found through trial and error rather than logic - a game breaker for many players back in the day. Yes, there were a couple of points in Kathy Rain that had me particularly stumped, but nothing to the level of those older games. This should go some way to explain why my sense of relief/satisfaction from the overall quality of the game’s puzzles was so strong.
On the technical side things are pretty smooth. I never felt as though it was the fault of the games graphics or control system when struggling with a puzzle. Otherwise controls are as you’d expect from a point and click, with pretty much everything directed through the mouse.
Not to be missed
Through all of its 90’s grunge style gloom, Kathy Rain is a solid return to the retro point and click format. Its story and some characters might not feel as fleshed out as they could be, but its main character has a surprising depth and the world here is certainly immersive. Put that alongside some solid puzzling, voice acting and a great style and you’ve got a great little point and click adventure that is not to be missed.
Great style, solid puzzling, mostly strong story
A bit lacking in the pay off