Kalimba (or Project Totem as we knew it at last year’s Comic Con International), like many of the recent additions to Xbox LIVE is a massive throwback. It’s graphics are deceptively “simple” (more on that in a bit) and it’s control scheme is relegated to two buttons and a single thumbstick. At first glance, you might even assume that it’s a traditional 2D platformer, given the initial look and design…but once you pick up the sticks, it becomes abundantly clear: Kalimba is essentially Demon’s/Dark Souls for the Q-Bert generation.
Let me explain.
Kalimba operates two Totems (your hoppy-go-lucky protagonists) on a single input—and four if you happen to be playing co-op. Which means, when the two totems are apart, they’ll both take simultaneous direction based on your input; if you hit the jump button, they both jump; left and they both pitch left, right…well, you get the idea. Like I said: deceptively simple execution.
However, while traversing each level (and attempting to get all the pellets scattered throughout), you’ll encounter color swaths that correspond with each Totem; green swaths can only be touched by green totems (and pink swaths for pink Totems, yellow for yellow, etc., etc.), and in order to navigate each level, you’ll need to jump and rotate your Totems to correspond with the bend of each color.
If…no, wait…WHEN your orange Totem hits a green swatch, you’re dead. No life bar, no power-up…just dead. Same goes for the clusters of black triangles (IE, Darkness) that exist in each level. When you die, you lose the pips you’ve acquired, and your final score gets a demerit. If you die, say, a LOT (as I was prone to), you can essentially go from full completion to zero bonus depending on how many deaths you suffered. Bonuses unlock decorations for each totem you rescue, which, in turn shows your progression.
Multiplayer mode (or as we at the office call it “Who’s Ready For Divorce” mode), adds two MORE totems into each level, and features increasingly difficult puzzles which require not only switching on-the-fly as you would in single player, but you’ll often need to stack in tandem with the other player. It starts out fine, and quickly devolves into an amazing rendition of the blame game, simply due to the twitch-response of the totems, and the necessity of being exact in each movement. I’ll attest firsthand that I had brusises on my right shoulder while co-op’ing with my darling wife, mostly because I’m terrible at twitch puzzles, and I’d often lose all of our points via repetitive button blunders.
That being said, like Demons/Dark Souls, the game will eventually teach you how to win, simply by virtue of repetition. Also, even while dying multiple times and losing all your hard-earned pips, you never really die…you just don’t get any bonuses at the end of the level.
But I want ALL the stuff!
And the only way to unlock all of the totem “extras” is to play through the level again. And again. And again. Until you get it right. But unlike Dark Souls, you never feel like the challenge is impossible, and even though it can be extremely frustrating, getting through with 100% completion is like getting a gold medal. It’s a great feeling, and since I still have yet to 100% the game, it ends up being in constant rotation, like a sorbet to cleanse the palate between too many matches of Call of Duty.
In short, for $9.99, it’s a fantastic title, and well worth three times its asking price, ESPECIALLY if you’re a fan of retro titles and/or puzzle games.