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Kalimba review

Katharine Byrne
4 May 2015
Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Kalimba header
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
7
inc VAT

With its smart design and mind-melting puzzles, Press Play's Kalimba is the new golden child of PC platformers

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, Xbox One

Logs are your enemy in Kalimba. Never mind the evil spirit who destroyed your magic totem pole and sent you on a brain-aching platform journey to rebuild it; your real foe is the humble hunk of wood that sits smack bang in the middle of your newly-restored tower of carved animal heads, a glaring reminder of your past failings to simply press A and X (or Space and Ctrl) in the right order.

It sounds simple enough, but every death counts against you in Kalimba, and even those who manage to collect all 70 chiming triangles in each level will find their briefly golden totem trophy smashed back down to a pitiful block of wood if they die more than thirty times. That might seem excessive for such an innocuous-looking platformer, but Kalimba is made of sterner stuff, and it's by far one of the genre's most joyful and challenging games we've played in quite some time.

Kalimba screenshot

^ You control two totem pieces in Kalimba, so you'll need to keep an eye on both of them if you want to make it to the end

To restore your totem pole to its former glory, it’s your job to guide two miniature totem pieces through several perilous caves simultaneously, making sure you don’t send one into an instant-death pit of doom while the other tries to land on solid ground. Thankfully, developer Press Play does an excellent job of easing you in gently, teaching you the ropes while never letting up the pressure.

Ideas never outstay their welcome either. In the first ten levels alone, each stage brings a fresh challenge, and Press Play continue to build on each one throughout the game, rapidly adding new twists and obstacles that evolve intelligently with each passing minute. For instance, just when you think you've mastered the double jump and swapping your totem pieces to match the colour-coded energy barriers, you suddenly have to do both while contending with slippery ice fields and anti-gravity puzzles.

Kalimba screenshot01

^ It's do or die when you've got a huge flying skull on your tail

Add in a whole range of evolving enemy types designed to thwart your every move, and your brain will be positively trickling out your ears by the time you reach the final stages. We'd hate to spoil any more, but the penultimate level, which sees you falling upwards into the sky in a daring feat of anti-gravity aerial acrobatics, is a real treat.

Topping it all off are three end of world boss battles. These are some of Kalimba’s finest moments, as each motion must be timed and calculated to work within your ever shrinking world constraints (which eventually dwindle from a single platform to no platform at all). While other platformers often struggle to translate their ideas to single-screen arenas, Kalimba does so with aplomb, and it's a testament to Press Play's ultra-tight controls that they don't descend into high-strung, controller-throwing fits of rage.

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^ Later on you gain the ability to fly, allowing you to drift over larger gaps

To stretch your grey cells even further, there are those aforementioned collectibles scattered throughout each level. Admittedly, they're not exactly hard to miss, as most act as helpful signposts to the next platform or tease potential jump patterns over coloured barriers. However, they play a vital role in helping to maintain the game's overall rhythm, as each fresh collision feeds seamlessly into the game’s soundtrack, creating an extra layer of auto-tuned percussion to accompany your journey. It’s a shame it doesn’t build up the overall soundtrack as well, adding in extra instruments as you gain more triangles, for instance, but it brings a welcome dose of personality to the game and helps to keep it feeling tight and succinct.

It’s this kind of flair and presentation that sets Kalimba apart from other indie platformers and we were particularly taken with the wonderful set of expressions present on our tiny team of totem pieces. Whether it's their wide-eyed wails of peril as they cascade over a canyon, their jubilant dances as they near their parent totem piece, or their smug, basking grins as their winged partner eases them down gently after a particularly tricky descent, Kalimba’s artful presentation delights from start to finish.

Kalimba screenshot03

^ In co-op mode, you start off controlling just one totem piece each, but you'll soon need to manage four simultaneously

Of course, having two characters to control makes an ideal recipe for local co-op. A word of warning before you start roping in new pals, though, as Kalimba will almost certainly make or break your friendship if you don’t already have a bond of steel beforehand. Some will no doubt be disappointed by the PC version’s lack of online co-op as well, but sharing your joys and frustrations with a friend is definitely something best suited to your own living room.

At just £7, too, Kalimba never fails to hit all the right buttons. With its masterful design and wildly inventive mechanics, Kalimba should be in every PC gamer's library without question. It's just a shame there isn't more of it. Fortunately, the Dark Void DLC pack is more than worth the extra £2.79, as these ten extra levels are somehow even more entertaining and fiendishly difficult than the main game. Forget the wooden Mario imitations clogging up your desktop; Kalimba is your new gold champion.  

Availability
Available formatsPC (tested), Xbox One
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows 7
Minimum CPU2GHz dual-core
Minimum GPUIntel HD5100 (Iris) or Nvidia GeForce GT 630
Minimum RAM4GB
Hard disk space2GB
System requirements
Price including VAT£7
Supplierwww.store.steampowered.com
Detailswww.pressplay.dk/games/kalimba