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About the Story
For an Egyptian mummy's soul - or "Ka" - death is but the first step on a puzzling and perilous journey. The second step? Getting out of all those coffins....
6th Place - Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7
Jay Is Games
Ka is light on story and long on puzzles. If you're an aspiring Mensa member, or just someone who likes doing the crossword, this one will intrigue you. Some of the puzzles are quite ingenious; one, involving a mechanical beetle, was a lot of fun, although my head spins at the thought of trying to code it. Technically, Ka is impressive: considering that the main element of play involves a lot of custom vocabulary and verbs, the lack of bugs is commendable.
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The narrative of Ka is revealed a bit at a time, but is very rich and easy to get lost in. For me, of the games I played from this collection, Ka had the largest sheer amount of environmental wonder -- the stuff that makes otherwise sterile games like Myst so fascinating for so many people. (The runner up would probably be Andrew Plotkin's Dual Transform.) The sterility of beautiful puzzle-bound environments even integrates well with the game's theme.
-- Irfon-Kim Ahmad
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I had a lot of fun with this, and got stuck enough to check the walkthrough only once. It's a nearly pure-puzzle work, in which you play a soul moving towards the afterlife after a ceremonial Egyptian burial. The setting combines plausible historical detail with some surreal mechanisms and imagery; the writing at times feels a bit zarfian. The first few moves and environments are not actually the game's strongest and may feel somewhat underdeveloped, but the setting becomes more interesting later on.
The puzzles are neat set pieces, self-contained and linear; they are mostly not terribly hard. Early puzzles may seem almost *too* easy, but they teach needed techniques to solve the later ones, and should possibly be regarded as something of a tutorial.
There were one or two solutions that I thought could have been better clued or could have accommodated a larger range of vocabulary. Most are really rather elegantly imagined, however, and most suggest some kind of metaphorical or spiritual progression of the soul as well as the manipulation of physical objects.
I also noticed that there were some scenery objects that were unimplemented. However, when I played, Ka was undergoing some upgrades and polishing to make up for some remaining awkward bits, which may resolve my other objections.
Overall, Ka is an enjoyable lunchtime-sized puzzle fest with a coherent concept and some memorable details and imagery.
Like a lot of the most high-faluting mummies, you used to be a pharoah. Now you're a Ka, an ex-mummy spirit about to quest for the afterlife. And as the game's blurb reveals, the first problem you face is that you're inside a coffin inside a coffin inside a coffin inside a coffin... etc.
In spite of Ka being on my To Play list for a long time, I procrastinated because of the impression I'd obtained from reviews that it was a hard-leaning puzzler with an emphasis on machinery puzzles; I don't consider interpreting detailed descriptions of arcane equipment to be one of my strong suits in parser gaming. Ka definitely has a good amount of arcane equipment in it, but it's also considerably more varied, and the way it's mostly delivered as one self-contained room after another reduces stress. The player doesn't have to worry that the thing they might need to make a machine work is elsewhere. I was thoroughly engrossed in it and completed it in eighty minutes, only checking a walkthrough once. It is a little strange, though, that so much is implemented in this game, and yet so much that seems obvious has not been implemented. I suppose this backhandedly amounts to direction on the puzzles (you can't muck around with things that aren't implemented) but it does suppress Ka in the polish stakes.
The ABOUT text mentions the amount of research on Egyptian afterlife rituals that went into Ka. The game has a convincing and exotic (to non-ancient-Egyptian me) aesthetic that's lived-in for its PC. I don't think I'd call its procession of puzzles a narrative-narrative, but it does develop a story, attitude and a history through the PC's narration, including flashbacks to his life as a pharoah. Battling through the puzzles amounts to a microcosm of the struggles of the living during life, and the prose doesn't forget to keep pressing this note. Success in the end does bring a kind of spiritual relief. There is an emphasis on time, memory, circles and loops in both Ka's bejewelled imagery and in the physical constructions of its puzzles.
The game's ultimate puzzle, a riddle, is the only one for which I needed to consult a walkthrough. Once I'd read the answer, I couldn't actually reverse engineer the sense out of it, so I wasn't hurt by my failure to come up with it. Fortunately David Welbourn, via his walkthrough, went the extra step of explaining its meaning to me.
Ka is a dense but not overwhelming puzzle game with a rich Egyptian aesthetic, plenty of exotic mechanical puzzles and a good number of other types of puzzles as well.
Ka is a puzzle game; as the other reviewers pointed out, its overall aesthetics are quite close to some works by Andrew Plotkin.
And the puzzles are good. The last one felt particularly satisfying: "Oh my, a riddle. What the answer could be? Is it some common and well-known thing? Something specific to Ancient Egypt?.." - and then it dawned on me. (Spoiler - click to show)Kudos to the monster for not eating me up after the first wrong guess - like the Greek Sphinx used to do.
But the best thing about playing Ka is not the puzzle-solving, but the mood - and in this aspect, I think, it sometimes even out-Plotkins Plotkin. The familiar feeling of solemn loneliness, being surrounded by indifferent mechanisms, the calm and melancholy dream-like atmosphere - are mixed with a strong sense of transition, of leaving everything behind, untying all the bonds, abandoning your past and your earthly possessions which don't matter anymore; standing on a threshold of some new spiritual life.
We don't get to see this new life of the protagonist: that's left to our imagination. But we get a wonderful finale, in which, for one move only, the soul gets to interact with non-mechanical characters - and is no more alone. A short glimpse of divinity; making it longer would have marred the experience.
There are many interesting details along the way. The rhymed sestains are well-written and in the general vein of spells from the real Egyptian funerary texts; and typing >WEST in this game always feels special because of the symbolic significance of the West in Egyptian religion.
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