XB1 Review: Kalimba

It may not look it, but Kalimba can be challenging.

It may not look it, but Kalimba can be challenging.

By: Quinn Potter

Based on my earlier preview of Kalimba, I expected to find a cute side-scroller for a few hours of afternoon entertainment. My expectations were met, although there were a few tasty surprises in store as well.

CONTROLS (4.75/5)

Things are very simple in Kalimba. The controls are well-placed and can’t be remapped, which is fine for the game. They’re just as easy to use with two players as with one.


Triangles play a dominant role in the graphics. The pixilated graphics are clean, and the Pacific Islander theme is well-executed. Frame rate holds up well throughout.

The sound is upbeat and jazzy. The be-boppy tunes keep up player interest and momentum through all scenarios. The background music changes as you go through different worlds and is well-matched to complement the graphics.

The low, melodious, Island-accented voice of the narrator (Hoebear) introduces each level of play. Hoebear will give you hints of what you’re going to be doing (“There is a weird, slippery floor” for the level with ice and so on.) He’s funny and helpful, and his voice is a good, smooth match for the entire theme.

GAMEPLAY (4.5/5)

Kalimba is an imaginary tropical island. There’s a good shaman who worships a totem pole. Unfortunately, there’s a dark shaman who kills the good shaman, destroys the island and scatters the totem pole pieces everywhere. This information is all relayed through a cut scene at the beginning of the game.

The good shaman’s spirit still inhabits pieces of the totem pole, though, so you need to collect all these pieces. The object of the game is to navigate the challenges (walking through magical goo, fighting bosses in the form of snakes, etc.) to successfully collect a piece of the totem pole for each level.

Kalimba has a little twist from the typical side-scroller, however, because you control two totems at the same time with these pieces move in tandem. When you jump, they both jump; when you move right, they both move right. This quirkiness makes the game stand out from other side-scrollers and adds to the difficulty. Instead of focusing on a single icon, you are dealing with the relationship between two pieces at all times.

There are two modes of play. In spiritual journey, you play alone. In companion journey, you play with a local teammate (not through Xbox Live). When two people play, you are controlling a total of four pieces of the totem pole. You can work together to stack up the totems as you find your way through the route.

As you work in a team, you’ll find yourself saying “Ready, 1, 2, 3 –” or something like that so you can synchronize your timing. There are multiple incidents when you have to double jump, or stack up all four segments in a precise way at a precise time to advance.

If you take the time to detour from the direct route, you will find a number of different challenge rooms. There are bouncy challenge rooms, icy rooms, gravity rooms and more. The challenge rooms are fun and increase in difficulty as you go.

From time to time, Hoebear steps in to give you an achievement award for completing boss battles, finding all the challenge rooms and more. When Hoebear gives you an achievement award, he’s kind of snarky, but in a funny way. He’s definitely appealing and a welcome guide.

OVERALL (4.75/5)

Kalimba is a challenging side-scroller that is enjoyable as both an individual player or as a team of two. The unique aspect of controlling two pieces at all times makes the game stand out from others of this style. It adds to the complexity and doubles the potential fun of working closely with a teammate.

About Herija Green

Avid gamer, adventurous lover and all-around damned handsome man...
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