Developer Press Play has a track record of consistently creating interesting platformers that allow players to experience inventive mechanics. In Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, they allowed players to wield a magic marker to interact with the game's levels, for example. They continues with their trend of crafting well-made platformers ,with the totem-themed Kalimba. The game is truly a challenge unlike anything else that can be found on Xbox One.
Kalimba has players controlling two characters at once. Other games such as Ibb and Obb have had similar mechanics, but in Kalimba each character moves in unison. Initially, the game starts off with each character on a separate floor of a cave. While it may prove difficult to focus on two characters at once, players will eventually get used to diverting their attention. After a short tutorial level, the two characters finally get onto the same plane, which opens up the game drastically.
Once on the same floor, players can stack the totems in certain situations which will allow them to reach higher platforms. The two characters can also swap places with each other with the press of a button. Swapping between characters quickly becomes the most important mechanic of the game. Press Play has done a great job of making sure Kalimba doles out new mechanics at a constant pace and this helps the game stay fresh throughout the twenty-plus levels found within its single player campaign.
While there are moments that will surely test the reflexes of Xbox gamers, Kalimba's true challenge is found within its puzzles. Much of the game is colour-coded which requires players to switch characters to go through certain areas. Stopping to assess obstacles is key as the game often left us stumped. Every ability and mechanic of Kalimba must be mastered in order to win through, and the game consistently managed to impress us through its puzzles.
There are three separate boss battles found within Kalimba's single player campaign. Each battle offers up a unique, memorable battle that forces players to put together everything they have recently learned. While most of the game has players avoiding enemies, the boss encounters instead put the player on the offensive. It is a great change of pace and all three battles are a blast to play.
Even after the final boss is defeated, there is plenty of reason to return to the game. Completionists will be glad to hear that each level features 100 spheres to collect. The reward for getting more spheres is a better totem head on the World Map. It isn't supremely difficult to collect all the spheres but the amount of deaths a player suffers gets subtracted from the score at the end of a level. This means to fully beat a level, a player will have to collect all the spheres and manage to not die once. That's easier said than done.
There are also nine mini-games hidden inside levels throughout the game. These mini-games are difficult to find and are often in hard-to-reach locations. Once unlocked though, they can be played from the main menu. Each challenge room tasks the player with earning a high score by performing different tasks and each mini-game features leaderboard support, so players can try to beat their friends' scores.
In addition to a fantastic single player campaign, Kalimba also features a fully-featured multiplayer campaign. This mode features all new levels and plays considerably differently. Instead of each player controlling one of the two characters, each player now controls two characters. That means four players are on-screen at once. This opens up new abilities such as quadruple jumps and gives the developer even more flexibility with puzzles. Sadly, the multiplayer campaign is a local-only affair. This restriction makes sense, however, as the mode requires a large amount of co-ordination and teamwork.
There are even more modes to be experienced within the game, although the unlockable modes may be best suited for masochists. After completing the single player campaign, players can select the "Old Skool Mode" which gives you three lives and zero continues. We regularly died upwards of thirty times in some of the game's harder levels, so this mode is only for the best of players. The other unlockable is the "Shorthanded Mode" which allows one player to play the cooperative campaign by themselves.
While Press Play has always developed good looking games, Kalimba is their best looking title yet. The art direction is truly top notch, with every object in the game is comprised of tiny triangles. The game's colourful graphics really pop on HDTVs and it is refreshing to see such a bright game when many AAA games are so coluorless. Also impressive is the game's upbeat and fun soundtrack. While it isn't the catchiest collection of songs, it does do a good job of accompanying the game's immense difficulty.
Kalimba - in a lot of ways - is a throwback of sorts. It can be completed in a few short sittings, has an unrelenting difficulty level and features wonderful 2D art. However, the game also manages to put players in gaming situations they have never been in before. It's a surprisingly fresh experience that can be incredibly rewarding and despite it being seemingly impossible at times, players who love a sizable - but fair - challenge will find a lot to love within Kalimba.