kuso

Welp, so much for my pledge to update daily in 2019. I did make it a week, but then dealing with the stupid epilepsy thing, running the hugely popular and scene-changing #IndieSelect, working behind the scenes as a community advocate and advisor, and I’m creating a social-media movement to help under-the-radar games to be found and played. Yea, things got busy. But, my passion will always be my work as a critic. And if you want to know why, look no further than this guy.

Adorable, isn’t he?

Doesn’t he look nice? His name is Fred Wood. And he is nice. At least outwardly. But Fred has a darkness about him. We know this because he made a sadistic punisher in 2014 that was littered with blind jumps and living or dying based on pure luck. And he called it “Love” because of course he did. Look at that dude. How can such a nice person make such a cruel game? It’d be like finding out Mother Teresa moonlighted as a taxidermist. One that didn’t wait for the animals to be dead first.

Anyway, I didn’t like Love. It didn’t win the IGC Seal of Approval. But it wasn’t as if I hated it. It had one of the most clever and innovative gameplay mechanics I’d seen up to that point: the ability to place checkpoints anytime. In my book, that’s a hall-of-fame innovation right up there with the ring system in Sonic or the mushrooms causing you to grow in Super Mario. I just didn’t like the unfair level design. For me personally, I want to know that when I die in a game, it’s my fault. I knew Fred was capable of better. So I wasn’t nice to Love and I challenged Fred to step it the fuck up.

He did.

That’s why I’m a game critic. The ones that listen and improve are what makes it worth it.

Levels feel more like a series of exhibits. It’s seriously one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever felt playing a game. It almost defies description, because the levels ARE levels, but they don’t feel like any levels from any game, ever.

Kuso (I absolutely refuse to call it “kuso” with a lowercase k) is the sequel to Love, and it’s one of those rare sequels that rights every wrong with the original. There wasn’t a single blind jump, or any moments where I needed luck to survive. Oh I got lucky a few times, but raw skills could have carried me to victory. I swear. Stop staring.

I suspect I’ll be pointing at Kuso for years to come as an example on how to properly make a punisher. And yeah, that has a lot to do with the fact that Kuso is overflowing with a wide variety of obstacle types, traps, platforms, and room concepts. It never gets old or boring. That stuff matters, but the biggest reason by far is Kuso has some of the most rock-solid play control any game in the genre has. It’s a breeze to control. Movement and jumping physics feel like they were fine-tuned in laboratory conditions. I try not to use the term “perfect” because I used to believe that perfection was unobtainable. But kuso controls perfectly. I can’t stress enough how important that is. If you think of any game as a guided sight-seeing tour, controls are the tour guide. A good one allows you to appreciate everything so much more. If you get a bad one, all you can think about is how much they suck, to the point that you stop paying attention and end up giving it a half-star rating on Yelp. You’d tip your Kuso tour guide. Every death you experience.. and it will be a lot.. will be on you. And you’ll know it.

I have no clue how it pulls this off, since really the stuff that kills you is often just redrawn/reskinned versions of stuff that already killed you, but each Kuso stage feels fresh from what came before it. At least until the last few levels that serve as a montage of all the shit you just got past.

Kuso’s stages are brief and usually focused on one or two types traps. It made me feel like I was running through a series of vignettes more than levels. A weird feeling for sure. Actually, that’s what makes Kuso stand out to me. It feels different from any other game I’ve played. It even looks like the type of game that doesn’t really exist that’d you’d see the charters on a sitcom or movie playing. It’s so stereotypical that it seems unreal. Which is bizarre because it looks and plays almost exactly like Love. But Love’s level design tended to go a little off-the-rails at times, like having to jump from an above platform blindly to one far below you that had a long line of spikes with one and only one safe spot that you didn’t know where it was until you hit it. Well that’s shit design because surviving your first time will come down to luck. It’s “gotcha” gameplay. There’s NO gotcha shit in Kuso. The craftsmanship of the levels, where every single portion of them feels like it was worked and reworked until it was both challenging but fair is exemplary.

There are some complaints. Kuso is the first ever game where I feel you respawn too fast. Often death is such a surprise that you respawn while still holding the direction you were moving when you got killed, leading to you spawning and walking off a ledge and to your death. I guarantee every player will experience at least a dozen “two deaths for the price of one” moments over the course of their first play-through. And even though Kuso is longer than Love in terms of stages, the levels feel a bit shorter. Fred, cool guy that he is, included a remake of Love with Kuso’s tighter controls in the Kuso package. You can even play all 16 of Love’s stages and Kuso’s 25 stages in a row if you wish, but I still don’t love Love. Kuso is the main reason to buy this one, but it falls just short of feeling like it’s the perfect length. It’s the classic issue I’ve had all my life: having guy’s things climax before I’m ready.

I often just straight-up didn’t lay down enough checkpoints. I can’t explain why, since I’m not a speed-runner or even a particularly skilled platform player. I just felt like the game was judging me every time I threw one down. Well, actually it DOES judge you on that once you’re finished. I got an F. Thanks so much, Kuso. There goes my self-esteem.

I must really not like punishers. Because Kuso is near perfect, and yet it doesn’t carry a higher ranking on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard that a game as good as it should. It has perfect controls and, with the clever checkpoint system, is as challenging as you want it to be. With this review, Kuso debuts #13 on the board. That means it’s the thirteenth best indie game I’ve ever reviewed, and this was review #583. That’s really high up there. It’s an astonishing moment in my site’s history. But it’s also weird that a game that I’ll be pointing at as near-flawless for probably the rest of my life doesn’t go higher. Maybe for me, Kuso is the limit of what a game like this can achieve. I don’t get why people like games with high user body-counts. I’ll never understand the appeal in it. But hey, fun is fun, right? And Kuso is really fun. But Kuso still feels like it’s more about the dying, and not the surviving. Perhaps in that sense, its one and only flaw that matters reveals itself. SEE! I TOLD YOU FUCKERS I DON’T HAVE THE PERSONALITY OF A DOMINATRIX!

kuso (goddamn people capitalize your titles) was developed by Fred Wood
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$0.99 (normally $4.99) cussed Kuso cautiously constantly in the making of this review.

kuso (grumble) is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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