PC/Mac Reviews

Kalimba Review: Not To Be Confused With The African Idiophone

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There is a simple island out in the world, known as Kalimba. This island is home to a peaceful people who worship a towering totem pole. One day an evil force strikes down the village’s shaman and scatters the pieces of the totem throughout the island. Luckily the spirit of the shaman lives on, and takes control of various objects to help turn away the darkness and once again erect the brilliant totem. The only way to do this is through nail-biting platforming and mind-bending puzzles, naturally.

The world of Kalimba is brightly colored and simply animated but the art style still manages to be striking. Objects are made with simple geometric shapes with bold lines. What little story exists is delivered through Hoebear, a fourth-wall breaking character who loves to talk about the legend of Kalimba, as well as your role, as the player, in restoring it. Hoebear also likes to talk about control schemes, achievements and general nonsense, truly creating an immediate endearment for the game.

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Once Hoebear drops you into the game, you find not one but two characters on-screen. You control both characters simultaneously and the characters movements are exact, right down to jumping and movement speed. That is, until the game starts messing things around. The object of Kalimba is similar to many platformers out there: get to the end of the level. There are 70 coins in each level and the goal is to get as many coins as possible while dying as little as possible. Upon level completion, you are awarded a piece of totem, whose elegance ranges from ornate to a literal piece of wood, depending on how well you did.

To actually reach your goal you are going to have to take advantage of the game’s many unique mechanics. Each of the two characters has a different color and you can switch the positions of the characters at will. You can move them side by side, stack them up to perform double jumps or simply have them running in unison on different parts of the screen. You encounter various dangers that most often are colored to match the characters. You can easily pass through your own color but touching the other character’s color will result in instant death.

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There are three main sections of the game, each with its own set of colored characters. Each section introduces new gameplay elements and ends with a boss fight. The further in you go, the more complicated it all becomes. Later levels have one character blown up in size or one character transformed into a bird that freezes when left alone but can glide while holding the other character underneath him. The most devilish puzzles inverts one character so he is running along the ceiling while the other is at the bottom. Switching them in this instance has them both suck towards the middle, bouncing off of each other until you switch back.

The level design in Kalimba is extraordinary and each mechanic is woven perfectly so that it’s usually easy to figure out what you need to do. The controls are tight and precise so you are never fighting what you want to do. Usually the challenge comes from actually wrapping your mind around the idea of controlling two different characters that are often tasked to do different things while still having both move in unison. Add on the character swapping mechanic and your mind is going to be racing.

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The downside of how perfectly designed the levels are is that there aren’t that many of them. There are 24 single player levels in total, which took me a little over three hours to complete. Similar to many titles in the genre the expectation is to go back through aiming for higher scores and perfecting your totem. On top of going back to older levels, Kalimba also offers more single player content in the way of challenge rooms hidden throughout the game that are difficult to track down, let alone complete. There is also a built-in speed run mode and an “Old Skool” mode that tasks you with completing each level in succession with only three lives per level. Die too many times and it’s back to the very beginning.

The true gem of the extra content is a completely separate cooperative mode. It’s only available for local play but the ten extra levels take advantage of the increased chaos of a second player by adding two more characters to the screen. You’ll be stacking up four characters tall, doing quadruple jumps and testing the strength of your relationship in a mode that requires communication, coordination and (in my experience ) plenty of patience. It’s a great ride but similar to the single player campaign, it feels like it’s over too soon.

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Whether it’s the unique style of the game, the wacky Hoebear, or the mind-bending gameplay, there is definitely something special to Kalimba. At $10, the content is a little on the light side if you don’t have someone to play the co-op with, but it will help if you’re the type of person who likes to go back and work towards better times and better scores; which is usually exactly the type of player the genre appeals to. Whether you go alone, or bring a friend, there is plenty of fun to be had on the island of Kalimba.

SCORE: 8.0 out of 10

A code for Kalimba was provided to Pixel Related for this review

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