Kraino Origins isn't a knock-off of Shovel Knight, but it scratches the same itch almost as well.
- Title: Kraino Origins
- Release Date: March 28, 2023 (Switch version)
- Price: $11.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated Everyone 10+ by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch (reviewed), Steam
- Recommended for fans of: Retro Action, Sharp Pixels, and Top Hats
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Kraino Origins has taken me wildly by surprise.
There are a lot of pixel art platformers out there, and I’ve played my share of good and bad, but mostly I’ve seen lots of mediocre entries into the genre. Even mediocre indie games can be worth a look, though, so I booted this one up expecting a competent game that showed its budget in its gameplay. Instead, I found a wonderful game that shines in look, sound, level design, and overall gameplay.
Kraino Origins is great.
Who Needs a Story?
The opening for Kraino Origins is a short slideshow about some sort of mad scientist reanimating a skeleton warrior. Naturally, that skeleton then dons a top hat and sets off across eight levels of old-school platforming goodness
I have no idea why he is wearing a top hat, and I have no idea why he is adventuring through these levels. I also don’t really care, because this game makes me feel like I’m five years old again, picking up Ninja Gaiden 2 without any concern about Ryu’s personal tragedies. It’s a game for game's sake.
The plot does develop a bit throughout the game. Each stage ends with a well-developed boss fight, and each boss monologues for a line or two of dialog. It's not much, but if you need a bit of plot to pull you through an adventure, there is something. Barely.
The visuals do a lot of the heavy lifting in Kraino Origins. Everything is drawn in beautiful NES-style sprites. The characters are chunky, the backgrounds are interesting, and the animations look great. This game does layer on some lighting and environmental effects like smoke that aren't at the same resolution as the sprite work, which always annoys me, but it still looks absolutely gorgeous. There's a toggle to dampen some of those more modern effects, but they never seem to turn off entirely.
Kraino also uses color beautifully. Every one of the stages in the game is vibrant and exciting to look at, even when it's an environment that should be drab, like a sewer. Unfortunately, the music is lacking some vibrancy. The tunes aren't bad, by any means, but they aren't super punchy, either. A game like this is easy enough to play while listening to a podcast or watching bad TV, so I didn’t mind terribly… but given how well the visuals and gameplay match with Shovel Knight, the music is a bit of a letdown.
Lacking in Length
The only serious mark I can give against Kraino Origins is longevity. The game is only eight levels long. There are a handful of hidden health and MP powerups in each level, along with a few bonus challenge stages. I thought I was closing in on the end of the game after about 90 minutes, but ran into a boss rush that was tough enough that I ended up going back through the entire game again to get all the stat boosts, and in the end, probably took about 3 to 4 hours to finish the thing up.
That’s a bit short, especially since it accounted for a nearly one-hundred percent playthrough of the game, but for an NES-styled title, it also feels appropriate. I just wish there was a little bit more that could give players a reason to keep playing the game, like more hidden items or a speed run clock or something. The developer is already working on a sequel, though, so there are more Kraino adventures on the horizon.
If you’ve upended Shovel Knight's treasure trove and found yourself wanting more 8-bit adventures, Kraino Origins is an easy recommend. It’s not quite on the level of that modern classic, but it is as close to those adventures as I've seen from another title, and coming from a solo dev makes that an insanely impressive feat.