When a game takes longer to review than it does to complete, it’s probably worth mentioning. We finished Kauil’s Treasure in just shy of thirty minutes, making it the shortest game we’ve played for some time on Xbox. With a price tag of £4.99 on launch, it doesn’t quite have the £-per-hour ratio of a Dragon Quest.
You play a blocky little Indiana-alike called Doctor Goodfall, with whip, fedora and a love for exploring ancient ruins. In Kauil’s Treasure, the titular bounty is your daughter, who has been kidnapped by the undead (reasons unknown). So, off you go through six levels of adventuring to get her jolly well back.
Kauil’s Treasure plays like an extremely diluted Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, covering all of the environmental puzzling that you might expect from the genre. You get the greatest hits of crate puzzles, for example: pushing crates onto switches, pushing crates onto traps, and pushing crates to make platforms. Then there’s all of your switch-related favourites, like pushing switches in the right order, or pushing them to unlock other switches.
It’s achingly familiar, but there’s a simple kind of fun in going through the motions and overcoming them. Things get a tiny bit spicier later on, when some puzzles take a little more thought, but that’s largely because they’re less well-made. Kauil’s Treasure has a habit of making essential items brown and camouflaged incredibly well with the environment, so the solution is probably just at your feet. But at no point were we flummoxed by something that we would call difficult.
Beyond the puzzles is some platforming, which is clumsy for a fair few reasons. The biggest contributor is the camera, which is computer-controlled and has a habit of swinging to a new position mid-jump, apologising as you tumble into the gloom. We also spent significant chunks of the game in a corner of the game screen, as the camera had no idea where to position itself when things got busy. When you’re lurking at the bottom of a screen, it can make jumps a wee bit precarious.
More generally, it’s hard to judge where you’re jumping, thanks to a lack of player-shadows, and we found ourselves standing mid-air on a fair few occasions, as Kauil’s Treasure is very generous with its collision detection. Infuriatingly, moving platforms create a kind of ‘drift’ on Doctor Goodfall, so you have to constantly correct yourself to the middle of the platform. Altogether, it’s more slippery and inaccurate than you’d expect from a modern release.
Then there are the interactions, which are an odd thing to single out, but necessary. Kauil’s Treasure chucks a lot of pots, skulls and torches at you, and expects you to be able to pick them up, throw them and all sorts. But will it let you pick them up on the first try, or quickly? No it sodding well won’t. You can spend a stupendous proportion of time pirouetting around an item, desperately trying to get the good doctor to pick… it… up. But that’s only one half of the problem, as putting them down has the same contempt for immediacy, and knowing where to put them down is just as unclear. Prompts above your head turn out to be red herrings, and the game camouflages where items should go. Trial and error it is then.
There’s combat, but there are barely five enemies in the whole game, and you can dismiss them with a pot to the head. These have the usual input issues, as you hammer the Y button in the hope it will actually throw the thing at the right time. These aren’t bugs exactly, but they are a bizarre oversight, and all contribute to a rough-edged and imprecise experience.
More concerning were the two times that we had to restart a level due to bugs. For a half-hour game, that’s not an astounding hit-rate. Both were for the same reason: items managed to get stuck on the character’s head and became hats – albeit hats that wouldn’t allow us to run, jump or perform any necessary interactions.
Tucked in a corner of each level is a secret item, and gaining them unlocks achievements. They add needed depth, but it would have been nice to select individual chapters to replay them once you have completed the game. The only option if you want to claim a last treasure is to replay the (admittedly short) whole experience. For the achievement-hungry, this is just as generous a game as it sounds, and we’d be surprised if you didn’t emerge with at least 800G.
Kauil’s Treasure is the work of a few friends from the University of Argentina, so there’s an argument for tempering expectations. While Kauil’s Treasure is unbelievably short, and manages to be familiar throughout, it’s also colourful and frictionless, meaning that you won’t be cursing any of it for too long. You’ll be at the end, your daughter saved, and with £5 less in your wallet.
While we wouldn’t traditionally pick on a game’s length, thirty minutes is shorter than most demos, and a ‘demo’ is precisely what Kauil’s Treasure on the Xbox feels like to play. Half an hour doesn’t leave much room for the gameplay to shine through, and what’s here is ramshackle, familiar and buggy. There’s certainly some fun to be found by the end of this adventure, but it’s not enough to make the expedition worth it. Dare we say that Kauil’s Treasure is more Crystal Skull than Raiders of the Lost Ark?