Finding time to finish a video game can be difficult, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly section Short game, we offer video games that can be started and ended in a weekend.
Growing up, I played a lot of educational games on the Apple IIe, like Oregon Trail and Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? The games that really taught me were also the ones that were fun to play, learning how a particular subject aligned with how you had to think about improving yourself in the game. Carmen Sandiego the games were particularly good in this regard: improvement meant learning more about the places or places in time where the thief could have fled in order to better discern the clues.
In the same vein, Kana Quest is a sliding block puzzle game designed to teach you the Japanese characters hiragana and katakana. It does this by being a very good puzzle game that uses Japanese characters as the means of connecting the tiles. This means that you don’t have to learn the characters to solve the puzzles; rather, you end up learning them to solve puzzles better.
The goal of each puzzle level is to connect each tile together. Tiles connect when the character on them matches an adjacent tile in one of two ways: either they have the same starting consonant sound, or the same vowel sound. For example, the hiragana character さ (sa) can connect to characters like す (su) or せ (se), which all start with an “s” sound. But it can also connect with か (ka) and な (na), because they both end with an “a” sound. It also means that if you place a tile さ between tiles す and か, the three will connect.
This configuration is quite pleasant, but as you progress, new mechanics are introduced to mix the way you have to think about each puzzle, like the tiles that cannot be moved at all, the ice tiles that slide in a direction until they touch a wall, or irremovable tiles. Viscous tiles – the characters あ (a), い (i), う (u), え (e) and お (o) – are particularly delicate. When moved to another character tile, they change vowel, so if you have a that tile on which you move a う mud tile, it becomes す.
However, it is the question mark tile that is perhaps the most interesting, as it adds an additional puzzle on top of the actual puzzle. These tiles cannot be moved until you guess which character it is, which you can find out by moving the other characters next to it and seeing which ones it connects with or by looking at the tiles and determining which character you need to solve the puzzle. A question mark tile can connect with せ, す and な, from which you can conclude that since it connects to two start characters “s” and to an end character “a”, it should to be さ.
The path Kana Quest incorporating all of these different mechanics prevents the game from feeling like you are doing the same puzzles over and over in different configurations. Instead, it relies on more complex gameplay while never losing sight of the fact that teaching Japanese is quite special. The mud tiles, in particular, have shown how well thought out this game is, as they could have been normal tiles. But the mechanics surrounding them help to differentiate them and make them memorable characters as well as changing the way you think of each puzzle.
Kana Quest has over 300 puzzles that can then be replayed with katakana characters instead of hiragana characters (or vice versa), effectively doubling that number, which means you’re probably not going to finish this game in a weekend. Normally, this would be contrary to the objective of these short game recommendations, but it is an ideal game for the quarantined world in which we currently live. You can play for around 30 minutes a day, eliminating a few puzzles. You will have spent your time doing something relaxing and constructive by teaching yourself something that will be useful beyond the game.
Kana Quest was created by Not Dead Design. You can get it Steam (Windows) for $ 14.99, and it will arrive on iOS and Android later this year.