iPhone/iPad App Review: Kotomon

Kotomon is the latest game from the creators of Rez, the classic music-driven shooter released for the PlayStation 2 in 2001, which gained a huge cult following thanks to its addictive gameplay and superb soundtrack.

Invoking the name of Rez, then, is a dangerous one, as many people will have high expectations, so any game referencing it had better be good. On the surface, things look this way for Kotomon, as like Rez, the music is influenced by your style of play – something which played a key role in making that game so enjoyable.

The game couldn’t be more different though, and as it’s of Japanese origin, the plot is completely incomprehensible. You play Kotomon, an odd little creature who seems to live on a planet where everything is out to kill him, so he enlists the help of some monsters to help him fight back.

These monsters can be picked up and thrown towards an enemy, and each one has different characteristics, such as being able to be thrown long distances or breathing fire when held.

The aim is to gather all your monster friends at a base camp, usually located past a variety of nasties who’ve got to be despatched first. Occasionally you’ll come across a big egg, which when rolled around for a bit hatches into a new monster pal.

Controlling Kotomon is easy, as a virtual joystick appears anywhere you touch on the bottom of the screen, and just walking up to a monster picks it up, and a tap on the screen shoots it off into the distance. Although the instructions don’t mention it, a pinch of the screen see the camera zoom in or out too.

There are 24 levels in total, all set in different environments and with different challenges to overcome. It’s not just the baddies out to give you a hard time either, as sometimes the landscape is out to get you too – but more on this later.

As the music was such an integral part of Rez, and is also said to be important to Kotomon, let’s start there. If you’re expecting an incredible audio experience from the game, you’re going to be disappointed, as it’s not so much influenced by the way you play, but more about what you do. At least, that’s how it seems.

Except aside from the percussion loop generated by Kotomon’s walk, little else seemed to make any difference to the audio. Sure, things get more frantic as the action increases, but that’s expected from the soundtrack in most games.

Rather than being techno-cool like RezKotomon is cute, so the music is similarly different. Gone are Rez’s House beats, having been replaced by a forgettable theme. Anyone hoping for any improvement by using headphones will be disappointed too, as it’s almost identical to the speaker output.

This is a shame, as games such as Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery proved how much such attention to detail could improve the overall experience.

So, while the audio is a bit of a letdown, the graphics are less so, and are cutesy/quirky in that typically Japanese way. The game looks brilliant on the iPhone’s Retina Display, but isn’t improved on the new iPad, and all the animation is smooth and detailed.

Finally, we come to the game itself. It’s certainly original, and for the first few levels, things are fine. A little dull, but fine in a non-challenging, more surreal way. Soon though, problems with the control system start to show up, and you’ll spend more time circling monsters instead of picking them up, and ages trying to shoot one remaining enemy as it’s almost impossible to aim with any accuracy.

This is nothing compared to the frustration of level 8 and onwards, as Kotomon will test your patience like few games have before. Environmental dangers are introduced around this time, including pools of lava, which kill you and your monster friends instantly – and when they do, you get to restart the level.

Avoiding the pools as Kotomon is easy, but it’s the infuriating monsters who’re the problem. They wander off, get distracted by food or slide down hills all by themselves, activities which usually result in a hideous, fiery death. They all follow you at different speeds too, so you have to keep stopping for them to catch up, only for one of the stragglers to take a short cut that – yep – goes through some lava.

You can only carry one at a time, so you can’t stop them falling in, and you’re rarely holding the one you want when an enemy appears, and as you have to stand still for a while to drop it, you’re just waiting to be killed. If you get tagged, it’s time to restart the level again.

There’s nothing worse than being confronted by a level that’s difficult due to shortcomings in the game, instead of your own abilities, and it really doesn’t make you want to push past it.

The intricacies of the game itself are inadequately explained too, as it’s possible to gain between one and three stars for each level, but it never tells you how each of the stars are achieved. It all feels like a half-hearted experiment by the developers, with little attention paid to the player or how the game itself will play.

At £1.99, or £2.49 when the launch promotion finishes, Kotomon doesn’t offer enough replay value to justify its price. It is universal for the iPhone and iPad, which is something, but as it’s as annoying on both devices, this is of little consolation.

Perhaps a future update will cure Kotomon of its annoying gameplay, at which time it could at least be recommended to fans of weird Japanese games.

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