Sandlot Games is known more for its strategy games than anything else, what with titles like Tradewinds and Westward to its name. Now the studio is bludgeoning its way onto the hidden object game scene with Kuros, a beautiful and unique object finding adventure that will remind you in more than one way of the Dream Chronicles series.
You wake up in a strange magical world knowing not who nor where you are. Upon exploring this mystical place, the holes in your memory are filled in one bit at a time by the eccentric host of characters you meet. Your name is Katya, and the world you are exploring is none other than Kuros, a realm kept in balance by glyph stones that keep the elements in harmony.
You soon learn that all is not well and this is far from paradise. Someone has thrown the elements out of balance and launched an offensive against those who have sworn to protect the glyph stones. Now the inhabitants of Kuros turn to you to help them restore order and track down the culprit that threatens the fate of their world.
You'll find that your time on Kuros will be very busy indeed. In order to explore more of the world, you'll have to search the various scenes for cleverly hidden map fragments. Once all the fragments for a given area have been discovered, piece them together and open up new areas. You'll also put your object finding skills to the test to solve puzzles, many of which open up even more puzzles! As if this wasn't enough, keep your mind on restoring the glyph stones, a task that will require the use of your magic wand and your ability to carve the sacred glyphs you'll find all over the place.
Analysis: It's clear that Sandlot Games wanted to make sure its first venture in the world of hidden object games was a strong one. Indeed, Kuros roars out of the gate determined to prove it is anything but a conventional object finder.
There are no lists of random objects in Kuros, everything you hunt for plays a strong part in the game. Finding map fragments is perhaps the most conventional object seeking task. Outside of that, you'll find some of your item hunts will loosely resemble those in Totem Tribe. That is to say, you'll often be sent to track down numbers of like items across a broad area (or, in this case, across multiple scenes, sometimes spanning the entirety of Kuros itself).
In other instances, object seeking resembles gameplay found in Flux Family Secrets. Hotspots which are ultimately part of puzzles will summon blacked out images of items you'll have to find in the immediate scene. Once these items are found and put in their correct slot you can proceed with the puzzle. By getting creative and mixing up the hidden object mechanic, Kuros keeps the core of its gameplay fresh and engaging even if conventional object finding may have grown a little old with you.
Backing up the item hunts is a strong supporting cast of puzzles. From lining up paths of piping to punching your way through Guitar Hero-esque organ playing, these puzzles may not be exactly the most original we've seen, but they are exceptionally well-executed. These stand-alone puzzles are further bolstered by a very light item-based puzzle element. In both cases, most of the challenges you will be tasked with are not all that difficult and serve as a nice way of changing the pace as opposed to acting as nigh-impassable obstacles.
Rounding out what makes Kuros work so well is the cast itself, or, more accurately, the storytelling dynamic. The plot behind Kuros is rich and hints at unplumbed depths waiting to be discovered. This mystical planet brims with life thanks to the eccentric characters you'll meet, from the nearly-blind Farseer to the catastrophically clumsy Librarian. Each character (with perhaps one or two exceptions) is brilliantly voiced. The voice of Katya deserves special mention here. Her lines may test the boundaries of believability with the way the shocking is dealt with nonchalance. But the voice somehow manages to sell it with a near-perfect blend of awe and cynicism. While we don't spend too much time with the characters in this story, it's hard to walk away from Kuros without the feeling that new friendships have been forged.
Yes, Kuros inherits its personality from its inhabitants, but it has a physical beauty all its own. From a kindly forest setting that promises the beginnings of fairy tales to chilling windswept snow-capped peaks, the look of Kuros is surreal enough to be fantasy, but real enough to take your imagination on an amazing ride.
While overworld navigation is easy enough, navigating whilst in a scene can be a pain. The hotspots that let you leave any one given setting are often unintuitive, bizarre, or far too obtrusive, taking up most of the main playing field. Another annoyance is the fact that you'll have to manually enter every item you pick up into your inventory. This may seem small, but when you are searching for objects over the span of several settings this can be a rather trying hindrance. Kuros would have also been helped by a slightly more generous hint system. The irony of the matter is that you must find special items to gain hints, and these are some of the most fiendishly hidden objects in the game. This strikes me as counter-intuitive because if you are having a hard time finding one of the objects you need, chances are you'll have a harder time finding one of the items needed to help you find it.
The last problem plaguing Kuros is somewhat bittersweet: it's just too short. And while Kuros has its flaws, even with those taken into account it's clear that Sandlot came up with something pretty special here. As I neared the end I did so with a slight twinge of sadness. I was just getting started. Hidden object veterans should power through this title in an afternoon, but you'll wish you had at least twice that time.
Kuros has what some may call rookie mistakes, but the ingenuity and craftsmanship that went into making this game shine amazingly bright. In the end it's sad to leave Kuros behind for the mundane world, but we do so with great hope that we'll have the opportunity to return soon (and hopefully for a little longer next time).