It may not have an interact button, but Kairo manages to avoid the semantic minefield currently separating Proteus‘ island from the gaming mainland. There are navigation puzzles here, switches and pressure plates, oblique clues to puzzle over and even codes to decipher. This is most assuredly a proper game, if rigid enforcement of unstable definitions is your thing, though that doesn’t stop it from being an oddly contemplative and serene version of the form.
Dropping players in a stark dreamscape made up of vast, imposing structures floating in a void, there’s a weirdly techno-theistic feel to Kairo’s world. These sprawling chambers and monolothic towers have a cathedral-like sense of grandeur, but a distinct lack of humanity to them, as if you’ve stumbled into an afterlife for retired computer programs. The result is a feeling that your presence is a trespass (a sense heightened by an ominous soundtrack), twinned with a powerful desire to see more and explore. Puzzles control the pace of your progress, rather than genuinely hindering it: with the exception of a few obscure, optional challenges, most are generously signposted as you restore these weird, inert structures to life.
But while the beauty and evocative nature of Kairo’s world has survived the transition from its original PC form to iOS unscathed, the controls have not. Movement is flighty and unwieldy, and in desperate need of a sidestep. Your actions aren’t often time-sensitive enough for this to matter, but in a game about exploring a mysterious world, it’s a pity navigation is such a challenge. But whether played on tablet or desktop, Kairo’s a fascinating, haunting world.