If you ever wondered how many crazy mind bending platforming puzzles and concepts you could put into a game, you wouldn’t be alone. The team over at press play, a Microsoft studio, has been creating puzzle platformers for awhile now. Their previous game, the more story driven Max and the Curse of Brotherhood, was a puzzle platformer requiring you to draw tools on the screen to help you progress. Kalimba for Xbox One has its own unique hook and focus on just how far they could take it.
You play as two pieces of a totem simultaneously. You can jump and when the totems are stacked, you can double jump the top totem. This allows you to split up, requiring you to pay attention to both characters at the same time. Each totem is also a specific color which allows you to pass through fields of that color. Next you are given the ability to swap the colors of your totems. You’ll need to stack up to carry your red totem through a blue field and jump and double jump over obstacles while continually catching your other half. This mixed with switching back and forth gets ridiculous very quickly. And this is only the beginning, as you move through the levels more layers of complexity are added.
Soon enough you’ll be manipulating gravity, changing size, and bouncing all over the levels while furiously switching colors attempting to not die. You are required to move, switch colors, and control gravity all at the same time and some may find this overwhelming, but I welcomed the challenge. It’s a very unique platformer in this sense. You are never just doing one thing. It constantly feels like you’re trying to play two games at once.
There is also plenty of puzzle aspects to the game as you’d expect. Separating your totems and getting their colors aligned properly to clear certain sections. The main goal of any fixed puzzle game is to not make sections overly obtuse while maintaining that “I’m a genius!” moment. I think Kalimba succeeds well here, but I would have loved more puzzles and less frustrating reflex color switching sections.
Going beyond single player, if you have a friend you don’t mind not being your friend anymore, there is a co-op mode. You each have a two piece totem and this is where things get a little nuts. Working together and timing your jumps is frustrating but ultimately extremely satisfying to pull off. It requires a lot of communication and problem solving. There isn’t enough of that in games these days and that makes Kalimba a completely refreshing experience.
This game really isn’t for everyone. If a mind-bending physics puzzle platformer doesn’t get your blood moving you may want to try it with a friend first. The main focus is the platforming, but for me, its everything I want in a game: tight, interesting mechanics that are completely unique.