Kalimba Proves Two Totem Heads Are Better Than One

Reviewed On
Xbox One
Available For
Don't look down... ever.
Don’t look down… ever.

The old adage says two heads are better than one. There doesn’t seem to be a well-known phrase about keeping track of two heads, though. Fortunately for the gaming world, the developers at Press Play heard all of your (complete lack of) concern for this missing proverb and came up with a plan to address it in the form of Kalimba.

On the mystical island of Kalimba, an evil villain has slain a benevolent shaman and scattered the heads of an all-important totem pole. But fear not, for the shaman has realized that she can posses the totem heads and bring them back together, giving explanation to Kalimba’s key element of controlling two totem heads simultaneously.

It’s an interesting dynamic that serves to give Kalimba a simple control scheme while still creating some genuinely clever puzzles. The analog stick moves both totem heads, the A-button jumps and X switches the totems’ places.

Kalimba’s key challenge comes from the fact that every action players make applies to both totem heads, which is easy enough in the early puzzles, where the totems are evenly lined up on the top and bottom of the screen, with similar obstacles in place.

A few levels in, and the game starts throwing curveballs, most often revolving around matching the totems’ colors to get through specific areas. It’s a nod to games like Ikaruga and Outland, which made use of the rapid color-matching system to great effect. As the color-matching and platforming become more difficult, it becomes increasingly painstaking to accomplish each level’s goal of collecting 70 totem pieces without dying. It’s here that Kalimba starts to break down a little.

I see the light!
I see the light!

While the puzzles continue getting more challenging, once you figure it out, it’s really only a matter of memorization and repetition until you ace it. Time taken is irrelevant, further taking away from the challenge. The simple style and freedom to take things at a leisurely pace amounts to one thing: Kalimba’s missing the hook all puzzle-platformers need. There was never a time playing that I got that just-one-more-go feeling.

Aesthetically, the game does an excellent job of fitting into the style it’s trying to create. Angular character and level design, along with a smart use of vivid color, create a game that visually pops off the screen. The audio also fits the theme well.

What doesn’t fit – and to be fair, prides itself on not fitting in – is the fourth-wall-breaking, pipe-smoking, purple bear in a hat that’s a blend of Willie from Duck Dynasty, Snoop Dog and Smokey the Bear. Dubbed “Hoebear,” this strangely mellow bear provides the game’s tutorial, narrates the brief story segments, and generally questions why you’re obsessed with achievements. There’s even a point when, rather miffed that you’ve taken any time at all to play a side level, he actually holds the achievement logo in his hand and tells you he’s given it a ridiculous name. (The achievement is called “I like turtles.”)

Bombs away!
Bombs away!

Yet even as he tries not to fit in, Hoebear may be the perfect representation of Kalimba: a strange, often clever creation that just goes and does its own thing.

Kalimba may not be perfect, but it’s a solid puzzle-platformer, and fans of the genre may be pleasantly surprised by it. But from a general perspective, it’s missing that je ne sais quoi that makes all great games in the genre so addictive.

Kalimba earns a respectable 3.5 GiN Gems out of 5.

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