Xbox One, PS4, PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X, Atari VCS
April 7, 2022
Graphite Lab, Joystick
Kombinera is a slick new stylized 2D puzzler from publisher Atari. It’s a colourful game that starts out easy before building its difficulty with every level. Kombinera is a frenetic ball fest that at times can be both super satisfying and entirely tedious.
As the name suggests, Kombinera is all about combining balls to solve puzzles, the trick is that all the balls in a level are connected. Moving one ball moves them all, which is what makes this game quite challenging. On top of that comes the different hazards and abilities that appear in over 300 levels. There’s also a storyline shoehorned into the game if you didn’t think that was enough.
Playing a humble puzzle game after so many huge AAA games has created a very different change of pace. Kombinera was so easy to jump into, and the aesthetic strengths only made it more appealing. Whilst I played on the Xbox One, I can see how the game may feel more at home on the Switch, as it feels like a great outing for a handheld console. It reminds me a lot of N+ because of its level design and attention to how the player is able to complete a level. I see the pair as sharing similarities because they both encourage the player to just try out an approach to the level. There’s no penalty for trying something, with an automatical reload if you fail, so as a player it doesn’t feel like there’s any barrier for experimentation.
The game makes me want to continue solving the puzzles because each presents a varying challenge. Kombinera becomes especially rewarding when you unlock later levels and gain access to even more different ball types. The types also then play into the levels and increase the challenge with the ability of each ball.
“There’s no penalty for trying something… it doesn’t feel like there’s any barrier for experimentation.“
Controls wise, it’s easy to pick up. With that said though, I did find some buttons weren’t explained such as the small jump ability. It was often the difference between a win and a loss as it was a more controlled jump option that could help you traverse a level. It would’ve been great to see the game explore the controls past the rudimentary tutorial on combining balls to succeed at levels. I don’t think there’s any reason why a button map couldn’t be present on the screen at all times.
For a relatively casual puzzle game player like myself, I struggled with how little leeway the game afforded me. There are no options to skip exceedingly difficult levels in the game or a hint system, and this seems like a rather cruel choice considering the nature of some of the combining puzzles. Many involve specific timings and a level of precision that could be considered tedious and rather brutal for players who are after a more casual puzzle experience. Not being able to skip the levels that are difficult or provide some kind of assistance creates this barrier that I think will lead to a lot of players not being able to enjoy the later levels of the game.
Considering this is a levelled puzzle game, one probably isn’t expecting there to be any story at all. And yet there is. While completing these ball combining puzzles, in between every group of levels there’s a cutscene. The story is quite simple in that it follows a crowned ball recollecting all the colour balls after being attacked at the start by dreaded triangles. It’s very vague and mostly down to interpretation but I didn’t vibe with it at all. This game doesn’t need the cutscenes. They just seem like an excuse to flash some bright pretty colours at the player. A puzzle game doesn’t need to be anything more than a puzzle game if it wishes to be. The fact that this game knows that and still added a narrative feels like it’s trying too hard to be something it’s not. I did appreciate that one can turn the cutscenes off in the settings, which I am so thankful for.
“Quickly it ceases feeling like some kind of rave and begins to feel like groundhog day.”
It wouldn’t be a frenetic puzzle game without a bopping soundtrack now, would it? Kombinera comes complete with an electronic soundtrack that feels like a decent fit for the game. My only gripe is that it can at times become quite repetitive. There was nothing worse than being stuck on a level and hearing the same tune repeat every few moments. Quickly it ceases feeling like some kind of rave and begins to feel like groundhog day.
Where Kombinera is at its best is when it had me replaying a level to get that perfect score and time. Where it becomes tiring is when the gameplay loop is repeated too often in search of progress. Having to replay the same level with the same electronic music playing just becomes repetitive. Players looking for a challenge will love it but those after something more casual may be left high and dry. Kombinera wants to be a lot of things and while it’s mechanically sound, the inclusion of a storyline behind these puzzles takes away from the game’s main focus which is to give you something to solve. The puzzles are worth the extra leg work but I’d say be wary of getting stuck on a tricky section as it could derail your progress and desire to even keep playing.
- Puzzles feel suitable to game progress
- Over 300 levels of ball combing fun!
- Perfect for a handheld play experience
- Lacks puzzle assistance options
- Music can be quite annoying in hard levels
- Game story feels unnecessary
- Tutorial feels sparse
As a puzzle game, Kombinera understands the assignment with ease. Conceptually, it feels familiar, easy to pick up, and perfect for handheld play, but it holds its own on a console as well. Where it falters is in its desperation to be something it isn’t. The game’s story is over the top and if anything takes away from the soul of the game. Similarly, the repetitive music can make the game feel underdone, which is a weird statement considering how polished the puzzles are.