There’s nothing zen about Koan’s keys, spikes, and fall damage

koan capture

In Koan, you play as a rather impatient disciple that only wants to climb higher up the mountain and become stronger. The passive ways of your master are bewildering, especially all that sitting and meditating and thought-inducing speeches about patience and looking within one’s self. And that’s it for the story here, though I think there are hints of other stuff, like that off-handed comment from your master about…uh, killing Buddha if you see him. Yeah, no idea if that is going anywhere, seeing as I got as far as “The Dream of Effectiveness” level before my lunch-break ended.

At first, Koan seems like a simple puzzle platformer, but then you learn the power of meditation. Through it, after collecting little spinning circles of energy, you can create blocks in the level to act as platforms or climbing points. The trick is that they only last for so long, then returning to their energy form to be collected and used again. You use WASD (or the arrow keys) to move around and jump, but pressing S or down has the disciple sit. From here, you can use your mouse cursor to select where you want to place an energy-based platform, depending on the number you have collected so far. And thus, your goal in each stage becomes using these temporary platforms to make your way to the exit, without falling to your death or landing on spikes. Oh, and sometimes you gotta collect a key or not get shot by projectiles.

Initially, I found the controls to be pretty stiff and jittery. Unfortunately, that feeling never let up, with the discipline occasionally moving forward too much too quickly…or not at all, despite buttons being pushed. Thankfully, for the most part, you’re never in a rush, and the mellow atmosphere and soothing pluck of strings in the background encourages you to take the time to take in your surroundings and plan your course accordingly. A couple levels involve grabbing a key before it falls off into nothingness, and those prove the most troublesome. I’m not also convinced I grok the hitboxes for the disciple and things like spikes, as a few times I died though it didn’t appear like I had stepped on something bad just yet.

Visually, Koan is pretty despite occasionally looking a bit too…videogamey. Yeah, I couldn’t think of a better descriptor. I mean, the backgrounds look like pieces of traditional art, depicting city structures and natural scenes…but just that. Art. The watercolor backdrops clash with the rather obvious climbing blocks and shiny golden keys and doors though I do like the minimalist look to the discipline and master.

Maybe I’ll go back later to Koan and see if I can get past “The Dream of Effectiveness” level. Until then, I’ll just meditate on the key-falling-through-shot-glass puzzle’s solution and hope the answer appears before me like a puff of cloud, voiced by Morgan Freeman, guiding me onwards.

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