I had no clue what to expect when I first dove into Kalimba. The bright colors and weirdly shaped creatures instantly had me thinking of a flash game on par with the 99¢ downloads you can find on your mobile device. However, after playing straight through the past few hours, I can honestly say that Kalimba is a charming, little platformer, reminiscent of games like Super Meat Boy.
The game’s story is simple. Evil has smashed the totem pole on the island, and players are tasked with retrieving all of the pieces in order to return harmony throughout the land. You start your adventure by meeting Hoebear, your magical guide for the rest of the journey. Hoebear, as the name implies, is a bear who happens to repeatedly shove a spear in his ear, seemingly aware of the fact that he’s in a video game. In fact, on multiple occasions, he goes so far as to tell you exactly what needs to be done for achievements, all the while throwing in jokes along the way. Sadly, the reason I have to direct focus on Hoebear as a character is that he is the only individual with any real development. Apart from him, you are only left with the nameless and numerous playable characters, though that is not entirely terrible.
On the gameplay front, it is quite basic. You control two nameless characters at a time and must run, jump, and switch your way to exits located throughout the game’s three worlds. And, yes, I did mean to say “switch.” Each of the two characters you control are a different color. At any moment, you can switch their colors with the press of a button. This is necessary in order to walk through color barriers that would otherwise kill the character while avoiding colored enemies. Avoidance just so happens to be necessary because, unlike most platformers, you cannot jump on enemies in order to kill them. In fact, the only way to kill an enemy is with the assistance of an ability orb.
Ability orbs are the final tools the game uses to add variety to an already saturated genre. Each world introduces a new ability orb, and while you will still come across orbs from other worlds, you’ll mainly use the orb from that particular world for a majority of the time. There is the anti-gravity orb, which allows players to walk on the ceiling, the growth orb, which doubles a character’s size and allows him to jump higher and kill enemies, and the flight orb, which allows characters to hover. Though they add variety to gameplay, the growth orb is the only one that is implemented perfectly. The gravity orb is difficult to control and led to a majority of my deaths, while the flight orb slowed gameplay down drastically, as there’s no way to have the flight orb and fall at a reasonable pace. Sadly, the orb implementation is not the game’s biggest fault.
Kalimba is short. It has 24 levels in single player mode—there is local co-op, but I was unable to experience it— that took me roughly two hours to beat. With more practice and skill, I can easily see a speed run being done in a half hour. However, for perfectionists, there is a lot of replayability. Each level works on a ranking system and, in order to achieve a gold ranking—which is what you’ll need for a majority of the achievements—you must collect all 70 items and beat the level without dying, which is no easy task. The difficulty skyrockets after the first level, and deaths are frequent (49 times on one level). Luckily, the game is very forgiving, providing you with unlimited lives, often respawning you only five seconds beforehand, even during boss fights. Although this might seem like the developers made the game too lenient, without this gracious system, most people would wind up rage quitting, especially during the levels where the gravity orb is implemented.