Tiny stacking totems, a struggle between two shamans, and a destroyed totem pole you must rebuild – this is all part of the charm of puzzle-platformer Kalimba. While Kalimba incorporates some of the most tried and true mechanics of platforming, it introduces concepts that set the game apart from its run-and-jump brethren. Copenhagen-based developer Press Play’s colorful romp straddles the line between fun and frustrating, occasionally sticking a foot over, but never fully crossing it.
The people of Kalimba have long honored a large totem built by a good shaman, named…well, “the good shaman.” She meets her demise at the hands of the evil shaman, who destroys the totem and scatters its pieces across the world. The good shaman isn’t actually dead, however, as her spirit lives on in the two small totem pieces that you control. It’s up to the player to guide the two tiny totems through various puzzles and obstacles to the end of each level as they gather the new pieces of the good shaman’s giant totem, in order to rebuild it bigger and better. The irritating Hoebear the Metabear narrates this entire setup, and while he does a good job of explaining the story and introducing new features, his meta-comments wear thin fairly quickly.
The gameplay of Kalimba is anything but conventional. Instead of controlling just one on-screen character, you keep track of both at all times. The player must jump, stack, and switch the two brightly designed totems to solve clever, color-coded puzzles that test timing and reflexes. Gathering all of the coin-like pieces in a level without dying rewards the player with a golden totem for that stage, a nice prize for achieving perfection.
The pacing of Kalimba is fantastic, delivering new mechanics in the form of ability orbs that can enlarge, reverse gravity, and give the power to fly to one of the controlled totems. The ability orbs keep the puzzles from becoming stale and twist the core gameplay just enough to keep things interesting. It’s definitely frustrating getting used to the timing and skill required to successfully guide two characters through a level at once, but there is a certain sense of accomplishment after the completion of each stage, no matter how many times you watched your totems charge into a wrong color or plummet to their unfortunate deaths. Sprinkled throughout the game are bonus areas that offer a nice change-up from the standard level progression.
The presentation of Kalimba is strong as well. Sharp 2-D graphics, distinct environments and characters based on geometric shapes, and bright, colorful levels make for a visually appealing experience. Likewise, the soundtrack has a calming quality as you navigate totems through increasingly difficult puzzles, except when the intensity of the score is ramped up for boss fights at the end of each of the game’s three sections.
Co-op literally doubles the madness of Kalimba’s single-player campaign. Instead of two totems there are four, a pair given to each player. Puzzles are even more difficult, requiring clear communication and spot-on timing between players in order to complete them. It can be fun at times, but managing four characters between two people is often more frustrating than it’s worth.
My biggest complaint is that the single player journey ends too quickly. While abilities are introduced at a great pace, once you get used to solving puzzles with the new ability it largely disappears until later levels when all three are used in conjunction. This is where the game truly shines with truly mind-bending puzzles, and I would have liked another section or just a few more levels in which the three totem changing abilities are combined.
Its annoying narrator, short length, and occasionally maddening co-op experience aside, this serves as a great example of how to offer a new twist on a staple video game genre. The puzzle-platforming of Kalimba is sure to offer a fun challenge to most gamers while its visually appealing presentation and tight gameplay are worth giving a shot.
This review is based on a review copy of the Xbox One downloadable version of Kalimba developed by Press Play.
- Fun, challenging puzzles
- Colorful presentation
- Great pacing
- Too much on-screen action in co-op
- Annoying narrator
- Too short