Little Kite

released on Sep 14, 2017

The game about one tragic evening in an unsuccessful family, when emotions and tensions are simply too high to manage.

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Never forget that walking away from something unhealthy is brave,
even if you stumble a little on your way out the door.
The enemy doesn’t stand a chance when the victim decides to survive.

It's a hard-hitting story about domestic abuse, held back by second rate puzzle design.
The Good:
Intense and believable, if a bit on the nose, story about domestic battery and abuse rarely seen in gaming - Quality artwork and sound design
The Bad:
Archaic, lackluster puzzle design detracts from the authenticity - Flash style animation cheapens the presentation - Occasionally wonky English translation
Little Kite feels like a therapeutic experiment by its creator expressing his childhood traumas in game form: using an old school point and click adventure framework, it's the remake of a 2012 free game by the same author and it tells the story or Mary, a young woman in what looks like an alternate version of 1990s Ukraine and whose loving husband has died in a tragic car accident. She lives with her son Andrew and her drunken abusive new spouse Oliver, who makes their lives a living hell. If a bit too dramatized at times, the whole situation oozes authenticity and feels like it comes from a very personal place, down to the unhealthy rationalization in Mary's head ("He's not a bad person, he's only going through tough times", "Better a bad husband than no husband") and the reaction of her child naming the villainous robot overlord of his fantasy world after his stepfather. This is a short game, so to say much more would be spoiling what little of the plot there is; suffice it to say that things go particularly awry for the dysfunctional family.
The game supports its story with the right kind of presentation: the sound design consists of a suitably somber, though not outright depressing ambient soundtrack and the art is excellently drawn and very detailed, really capturing the feel of what you would expect a block of flats in a lower income area of a post-soviet bloc town to look like, squatting gopniks included. It is so believable in fact, that one aspect of the story clashes with it: the anglicized names of the cast of characters come off as jarring and unnatural in such a finely recreated environment; had they been called Masha, Andrej and something other than Oliver it would have been more organic to the rest of the setting. It feels like the author thought making a game purely about Ukrainians would have put off the American audience, which is a shame.
What brings the visuals down a peg are the animations: they have that very cheap interpolated "Flash game" feel to them with their smooth transitions and scaling, which will always be inferior to frame-by-frame handcrafted animation. For this reason, a game that in screenshots might look almost as good as Broken Sword somewhat falls from grace when you see it in motion. Also not fully up to snuff is the English translation, which suffers from the more than occasional slavicism ("I have poked a hole in a bag", "I have filled kettle with water"). While certainly a blemish, one could (perhaps facetiously) argue that they contribute to the slavic feel of the game.
So the story and presentation deliver the good with some ups and downs but the real issue with Little Kite lies in its puzzle design: this feels like an early 2000s Wanadoo, Cryo, Microids or Pendulo adventure game, stuff like Journey to the Center of the Earth or Runaway come to mind, complete with obtuse puzzle design ("I have no knife to cut a sandwich with, I need to convince my son to let me use the plastic sword from his Conan The Barbarian toy") oftentimes feeling like you're building a Rube Goldberg machine to do simple things, like fixing a traffic light in order to simply cross the road (a puzzle in whch Mary, bruised after a beating, uses her own blood to make a lightbulb glow red) or repair the entire elctrical system of the building in order to go to the roof and tamper with the aerial so the husband will stop watching football on TV.
It's this sort of puzzle that takes you right out of the game with how absurd and mismatched they are with the superserious tone of the narrative, plus the game intersperses a handful of sliding block and wire connecting puzzles into the mix, which further compound the feeling it was modeled after that largely French school of adventure design that's better left in the past. Also problematic is the fact you almost always find the solution before the problem: very often you will see Mary pick up an item for no apparent reason and through trial and error combine two or more into something with a purpose you completely ignore, only to soon afterwards find the place to use it. The result is that you will incur in obstacles that you are already equipped to immediately overcome, which decreases the satisfaction drawn from figuring things out.
Also not helping is the fact items are unlabeled, so you will only have their visual representation to go by to identify what they are: is that a piece of chalk or a rubber tube, is that a piece of ham or bread? Mary will furthermore refuse to pick up certain items until she needs them, while she will do the opposite for others, meaning the game doesn't follow its own rules: you will get stuck because you wrote off an object as a background red herring when it was simply not the right time to interact with it. There is also a sizeable amount of pixel hunting involved (thankfully mitigated by the option to highlight interactive areas at the press of a button) and a particularly obnoxious puzzle where you need to squint at multiple screens in order to find tiny numbers scribbled on the wall to compose a safe combination.
In conclusion, Little Kite delivers a strong narrative but falters in the gameplay department. In the sum of its parts it's not a bad game and you will definitely have an easier time with it if you dealt with this kind of design before, but it will frustrate you more often than not. Worth it for the story and its value as what I suspect is an autobiographical piece that would be a shame to ignore.