When I started up Kalimba on my Xbox One dashboard the last thing I expected was to be greeted by a digital teddy bear, one who spoke of himself in the third person, broke the third dimensional barrier by referencing the game, the controller, and achievements, and having a not-so-teddy attitude. But this humor and charm speaks to the overall game itself.
In Kalimba, a game developed by Danish developer Press Play, you play the role of two totems, journeying side by side through various levels in an attempt to reconstruct the totem pole of the shaman lady, whose pole was destroyed by the evil shaman. Throughout the various levels you’ll take on the role of multiple different totems, none of which have any specific characteristics, but their color schemes play a role in progressing through the game.
The gameplay itself is clever, working as an average platformer where the goal is to move from beginning to end, collecting items and trying not to die from enemies or falling into dreaded black mist. The catch is that instead of controlling just one totem you control both at the same time, each one moving along with the directional and action button presses you make. With every level you’re forced to pay close attention to what you’re doing. At times the totems will be seperated, each of them moving along the level on a top and bottom platform, where sometimes there are pits on one but not the other. The top totem might be able to move to the end without any gaps, but at the same time the bottom might have three in your way. Additionally each level comes with obstacles designed to make you think and time your moves perfectly. Pressing X on the controller will switch your totems. Is your red totem about to run into the blue mist? One press will swap the totems and you can move safely through. But be warned – if one of your two totems die, then you lose and move back to the check point.
Each time you complete a level and gain a new totem, you’re taken to a statistics screen where you’re shown how many items you collected. The more you collect, the more accessories your totem receives. These range from arrows, pipes, and even sunglasses that deck out your growing totem. Acquiring all the items in the level and finishing without dying rewards you with a gold coated totem! But be warned, for each death you’re penalized. Die a few times and lose your gold coat. Die even more and you lose your accessory. Enough deaths will result in your totem being nothing more than a log place-holder. It’s a neat system that helps market the replayability factor of the game.
And speaking of death, it will come often. While Kalimba’s graphics and music are colorful and upbeat to the point of a casual platformer, its learning curve escalates quickly as you progress throughout the game. There’s challenging gameplay that pays off with a rewarding victory, and then there’s challenging gameplay that takes you to the point of annoyance. Kalimba borderlines on both sides of the fence. On one hand, when you complete a level you feel a sense of pride that you figured out all the obstacles in the level, whether it be well-timed totem switching or collecting all items. But other instances it becomes an annoyance, such as levels where the gravity is flipped. In these levels you have to time your button presses down to the millisecond or you’ll be sent flying into the murky black mist and back to the checkpoint. Some levels I found myself disappointed that I didn’t collect everything and complete the level without dying. Other times I didn’t care due to the frustration I experienced from dying dozens of times leaving me with no interest in going back to try and collect missed rewards or less deaths.
Still, the frustrating levels appeared far less often than the rewarding ones, and my time spent in the world of Kalimba was a pleasant one. Simple, yet colorful graphics and catchy music lend themselves well to the many different modes in the game, including single player story, two player co-op, and other challenge modes as you progress through the spiritual journey (single player story) mode. You’ll collect items, avoid enemies, and even battle some large, intimidating bosses as you use color coordinated puzzles and gravitational physics to finish the levels.
As a wise Hoebear once said, “If we let the spirit of the shaman lady do all the work, there wouldn’t be a game!” Kalimba is a fun and unique adventure, with a narrator that knows he’s part of the game as he gives you hints and hands out achievements to you. In the few hours you spend with Kalimba, you’ll find that this simplistic game holds a lot more challenge than you think, some of it frustrating, but overall rewarding.
Do you own Kalimba? You’ll be happy to know there’s new DLC content coming soon to the game, both paid and free.