In its early forays into the solar system, Earth's space fleet discovers an alien vessel. Named "Kino One", it proves a very interesting find for the research team and they manage to get it working. Amongst the various systems they reactivate is a distress signal - which, unfortunately, attracts the attention of a completely different (and much more aggressive) alien race, the Solak Empire. Earth's battlefleet is summarily wiped out, leaving just one ship left to defend the planet - the Kino One. Enter generic space hero Flash Brannigan and a battle to defeat the alien hordes!
Okay, the plot is right out of the eighties. So is the gameplay, the style, the sound, the music... Kino One is decidedly (and deliberately) retro. You take command of a lone ship, out to defeat the Solak Empire single-handed, collecting upgrades that turn your simple cannon into a deadly array of killing frenzy. But there's more! You also have the most enormous laser cannon in the universe - hold down the fire button and charge up for a continuous blast that slices through battleships as though they were butterships. You've also got a limited stock of bombs for when the screen gets too busy, a shield to help keep you intact and an emergency warp option that can help you get out of a sticky situation.
While points are scored in vast quantities, you don't directly score anything for shooting the enemy - instead, you need to collect the bonus stars that they erupt into when shot. The real points come from using your laser, however, as there are bonuses on offer for destroying multiple enemies with one blast and even enemy weapons fire turns into points when that death ray hits them. Similar bonuses come from multiple kills in one go from using your warp and from running into enemies whilst using shield pickups. There's also a battleship bonus, but I'll leave that one for you to discover!
The retro style is most evident in the graphics, which are a riot of lights and colour with some manga artwork for the comic book intro, the brief cutscenes and the tutorial. The whole thing is packaged in a virtual arcade hall, with Kino One the central console, surrounded by numerous other games (including clones of Pacman, Space Invaders and Breakout) which are also fully playable. All these are largely faithful recreations of the original games and serve to add background to the main game. I will restrict my reviewing to Kino One, though I tried all the others and they are rather fun too!
As well as a flurry of explosive sound effects, Kino One boasts a range of music. This appears to feature one game tune per level, though as a level consists of ten waves it does get rather samey rather quickly. Varying these more within individual levels might have been better. There are also no in-game options to adjust the volume, though volume settings for music, sound effects and voice CAN all be set from the arcade screens' menu. The options menu is easily the worst aspect of the entire package, being difficult to read and overly complicated, and is perhaps a case of being a little too faithful to the original arcade machine format.
It's an easy enough game to get into - the tutorial explains all the main game aspects and does so with some humour. If you should expire, you have the option to continue up to three times (akin to feeding more change to the machine). The gameplay itself, however, is occasionally best described as "chaotic". The laser should be used as much as possible, both as a means to score points and because it deals out much more damage than your regular gunfire, but is only available with at least one upgrade. This means, should you die, you need to grab the upgrade that is spawned at the time as swiftly as possible or your guns will be severely crippled. Try taking out a battleship (or worse, a boss) with your basic cannon and you'll do well to survive. And the dilemma, of course, is that it's by destroying enemies that you get upgrades!
Perhaps the key to success is to team up - Kino One (along with all the other arcade games in the package) supports a two-player mode. Each player has their own ship, etc, and (aside from competing for upgrades) the two together will cope better than one alone. I'm not quite clear how having two ships in play can be squared with the "only one ship remains" aspect of the plot but since when did game plots have to make sense??
There's a fair amount of stamina in Kino One's gameplay alone, and the rest of the arcade is a nice touch. Although bedlam is a good way of describing a typical game, there's a surprising amount of strategy involved - using your emergency warp, for instance (which is a good weapon in itself if you're stocking upgrades). Bombs blanket the screen, but aren't entirely effective, so I tended to use them if I lost all my upgrades and couldn't use the laser. Bosses need to be taken out in the correct pattern as they are shielded against your weapons until you take out their escorts. You have the option of starting a new game from the beginning or from the start of the last level reached, so if you reach Mars and then expire, you don't need to battle through the moon again.
I haven't really encountered any issues with Kino One beyond those already mentioned. It's clearly been thoroughly playtested and it is also clear that some considerable time has been spent on polishing. It also fits the setting rather well - I can easily imagine this in a real arcade in my (increasingly distant) youth. There are a few bits that could be improved, but only minor ones. Here's a blaster that allows you to switch off your brain and become a couple of decades younger for a little while - who could say no to that?
Keywords: kino one review, mangapage reviews, mangapage games, kino one scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.