It’s remarkable how easy it can be to see the effects of developers' genuine passion when playing a video game. In Kraino Origins—the product of one man, Angel Dorantes—you can just feel how much appreciation the dev has for classic retro platformers. Better yet, it turns out that he clearly understands what made the classics so great; Kraino Origins is a good time.
You take the role of the titular skeleton and are tasked with going through eight levels of spooky, scary action. Gameplay takes the shape of a typical retro action platformer, and Kraino is clearly inspired by many of the classics. There’s a little bit of Mega Man in here, a little more Castlevania, some Super Mario Bros. 3, but Kraino doesn’t feel overly derivative of such titles, largely because of its excellent level design. Each level is thematically distinct and introduces a few unique level gimmicks, such as conveyor belts or floating leaves, which are slowly built up into harder challenges over the course of the stage.
The tight mechanics and challenging level design thus make for a game that feels perfectly well-balanced; Kraino is definitely no pushover, but being persistent in learning stages and boss patterns is sure to lead to victory. And if you do happen to die, Kraino borrows Shovel Knight’s death system—a flying bag of gold is left at the spot where you died, and you can respawn at the last checkpoint and the bag disappears if you die again before getting to that point.
To help take the edge off the difficulty, there are permanent powerups concealed throughout each stage to expand your health and mana pools, plus a hidden merchant who can sell you a new sub-weapon to give you more versatility in dealing with enemies. If you want to really push yourself, every level also has a separate, shorter bonus stage with no checkpoints that really tests how well you understand and can handle the level gimmicks. If you manage to make it to the end, you’ll receive a magic skull used to upgrade one of your sub-weapons, netting you boons like the ability to shoot fireballs through walls or imbue your throwable axe with a freeze effect.
We were thoroughly impressed by the quality of Kraino’s gameplay, but the only drawback here is that the runtime may be a little too short for some. Completing all eight levels, plus the challenge levels, should only take you about three hours — five if you take it slow and find yourself dying a lot. Games don’t have to be long to be worthwhile, but those who insist upon more content may be disappointed.
As for its presentation, Kraino adheres to a simple 8-bit visual style that takes plenty of modern liberties. The color palettes are vibrant and the spritework is well done, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. The same could be said for the chiptune soundtrack, which provides a creepy and upbeat atmosphere, though it isn’t terribly memorable.
It may be over in the blink of an eye, but Kraino Origins proves itself to be a well-crafted and deeply enjoyable old-school action platformer while it lasts. If you’re looking for an affordable and brief entry in the genre, this is definitely one that we would recommend.