Review: Kalimba (Microsoft Xbox One)

5 mins read
Review by Shaan J.

If there’s one thing I’ve lamented about the Xbox One to date, it’s that Microsoft has really dropped the ball when it comes to small, downloadable titles. Looking back on my years with the Xbox 360, a good portion of my play time was dedicated to exclusive Xbox Live Arcade titles.

In its heyday, Microsoft was a giant when it came to nabbing exclusive titles, with its Summer of Arcade promotion paving the way for console exclusives such as Braid, Bastion, and Limbo. Sure, most of these games have made their way to other platforms since then, but Microsoft was the first place to go to play these games, and that made the console a worthwhile purchase in itself.

Related reading: The Puzzle Platformer genre is loaded with quality games, and we’ve reviewed a bunch of the best.

While there are a handful of downloadable games set for release in 2015 (gamers should keep an eye out for #IDARB and Cuphead), Kalimba snuck out just in time for the holidays, and anyone who is a fan of puzzle platformers, especially those that feature co-operative play, should keep this one in their sights.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to read our preview for the game, let me run you through the basic premise. You control a pair of totems, which are both mapped to the same set of controls. This means that when you move the control stick, both totems move. When you tap the jump button, both totems jump. It’s a neat mechanic that developer Press Play manages to expound upon and reiterate upon again and again through a four or five hour campaign, something reminiscent of some of my favorite puzzle platformers of all time, such as Terry Cavanaugh’s VVVVVV.
Aside from simply moving and jumping, much of the challenge comes from environmental obstacles. Colourful goo that can only be touched by a totem of the same colour, for example. Coming into contact with a totem of a different colour will warp you back to the last checkpoint, which are doled out frequently enough to avoid frustration. Bouncing and stacking totems off of each other, as well as spacing them out from each other is where much of the challenge comes from, though you also have the ability to swap their positions, which paves the way for some precise movements. Some of the most interesting moments come when one of the totems has its gravity reversed (the comparisons to VVVVVV just grow stronger), allowing you to endlessly bounce totems off of each other.

As strong as the single player component is, Kalimba really shines in co-op, where each player controls their own set of totems. Unlike some games, where the stronger of the two players might be able to carry most of the weight, Kalimba instead requires a decent amount of skill from both players, not unlike the Splosion Man and Mrs. Splosion Man games, though with a lack of a simple countdown timer, you’ll have to rely on verbally talking through puzzles with your co-op partner (there is no online play, so this should be relatively straightforward). Aside from the standard single player and co-op modes, there are a handful of collectibles to seek out in each stage, and there are a few unique modes to try out, including a ‘Shorthanded’ mode, which allows you to play the co-operative specific levels by yourself, on a single controller. These side attractions are by no means revolutionary, but are a challenging distraction, especially if you’re playing over the holiday break, like me.
While it may have flown under the radar for some (I imagine the last minute name change didn’t do it any favours), you’d be doing yourself a disservice by dismissing Kalimba, even with its rather straightforward and barebones presentation. As great as it is as a single player outing, Kalimba really shines when you can bring a partner along for the ride.

– Shaan J.

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