Classic Atari Puzzler
Overcome obstacles, utilize the special abilities of each ball type, figure out how the simultaneously moving balls will interact with the level, and problem solve the increasingly complicated 300 puzzle levels by merging colored balls. Gain pride in your success and like a Dark Souls game, prepare to die a lot. Hours of fun for everyone in the family.
- EASE OF USE
- REPLAY VALUE
Kombinera allows users to combine colored orbs to complete the amazing 300 level Puzzle-Platformer
Like other Xennials, a micro-generation term coined by Sarah Stankorb in Good Magazine in 2014, I was born into a childhood reminiscent of my parents but quickly joined the tech-centric stampede. I knew an age before computers, the internet, and cell phones were ubiquitous but grew up alongside the generations of video game consoles.
In fact, it is rather surreal to think that the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released 39 years ago this July. From the NES to the Super NES, N64, GameCube, Wii, Wii-U, several versions of GameBoy systems, Xbox, PlayStation, and the Nintendo Switch, gaming has been an integral part of my life. Now, with kids of my own, one of my guilty pleasures after a long day’s work is to unwind with some time with my Nintendo Switch.
I often pick between Action/RPG-style games or Puzzlers when it comes to game genre. So when I heard about the release of Kombinera on the Nintendo Switch E-Shop on 4/7/22, I was excited about the 300-level design, the promise of old-school visuals with a new school techno beat. The game was published by Atari and crafted by Graphite Lab In St. Louis.
Jacob Lear and Phil Snowbarger were the lead designers for Kombinera, while Brendan Chapman was the lead programmer. The Nintendo Switch version of Kombinera (also on iOS/PC/Android/Atari VCS/Xbox One and S/X/Playstation 4/5) will cost $14.99 and require 228 MB of space. The Game Thumbnail showed a star/space background with a lower left blue ball, upper right pink ball, upper left green ball, and lower right yellow ball. Each of the balls resembled a Training Droid from Star Wars.
Before progressing into Kombinera, you must “PRESS ANY BUTTON TO CONTINUE” to advance beyond a vivid Epilepsy Warning in bold red/white font. The subsequent screens provided an Atari Logo, Graphite Lab logo, and Joystick logo, followed by a loading screen with a red, green, yellow, and white star. The main panel provided the name along the top of the panel and PLAY, ACCOMPLISHMENTS, SETTINGS, and CREDITS along the bottom of the panel.
Selecting “ACCOMPLISHMENTS” will allow you to evaluate the stars (trophies) earned for completing levels and tasks in Kombinera. Some of the tasks remain as “????” until you discover the needed activity. The right side panel displayed the time played, levels completed, goal times, total combinations, total deaths, total jumps, bullets blocked, and the number of walls broken. Selecting “B” allowed me to return to the main page.
Selecting “SETTINGS” will allow you to adjust Music, SFX, Screen Shake (on/off), bloom (on/off), Cutscenes (on/off), Color Scheme Standard/protanopia/deuteranopia, Language, and Controls (Jump, Small Jump, move left/right, restart level). Lastly, selecting credits will allow you to see the upward scrolling game credits on Kombinera.
Selecting “Play” from the main screen will take you to the first level “Long Division.” The opening space/star background was a perfect backdrop for the large blue, red, green, and yellow orbs. The following screen presented a psychedelic, kaleidoscope-like entry screen similar to an entryway of a carnival. The first level demonstrated the win scenario by teaching you how to move the white balls together.
As you move the left thumbstick in Kombinera, each ball will move in the same direction. You need to use the terrain to move the balls into proximity to one another. The second level introduced the small jump “A” button, while the third level introduced the large jump “B” button. The fourth level introduced the first major obstacle for the game. You will notice colored spikes and a similarly colored ball. If you adjusted the visual settings from the “SETTINGS” screen, you may have different colored orbs than those listed here.
If the wrong colored ball touches the spikes, a dead-skull icon will appear at the site of the demise. The fifth level introduced a series of big jumps, while the sixth level began to incorporate jumps and color coordination. Without giving any spoilers, you will need to combine jumps and movement through spikes to connect the orbs. The seventh and eighth levels introduced a series of jumps to get to the end. Each level built upon themes of the preceding level and required you to add additional levels of control/thought.
Following level 20 in Kombinera, you will get a small cut scene and then the game will introduce a new puzzle concept of breakable walls. In standard mode, the yellow ball will break any yellow wall it contacts, while the red ball can contact the spikes. In protanopia/deuteranopia modes, the ball colors will be white/teal. Similar to Super Mario, you can jump on the tiles as they fall away if needed. Level 27 introduced the first green lasers of the game and required only a green ball to touch them.
As you combine the ball colors, they gain the properties of each of the colors. As an example, combining a green/white ball will allow you to contact lasers. As another example, combining a yellow and red ball will allow you to touch spikes and break down walls. As you play through the levels, you will notice small crowns hidden throughout some of the levels. The crowns represented bonuses for those individual levels, while each of the levels had a counter along the top left of the screen.
As you beat the time limit of each of the levels in Kombinera, you can earn a flag. As you collect the special crowns (not in each level), you will earn a yellow crown and will unlock special levels later in the game. Despite the presence of the crowns, the overall goal was to complete each level in a set period of time.
I was impressed with the progression of Kombinera and with the control scheme. As a puzzler, the game started out easy but then escalated the difficulty. After about an hour and a half of playtime, I had reached level 60, collected the flags (time) for nearly every level, and all crowns except for level 35. I was able to beat the 8.00 second goal time of level 35 but could not get the crown despite 39 attempts/deaths.
I loved that you could play each level as many times as desired without worrying about a set number of lives. If you were behind on time or perhaps you were stuck, you could press the right trigger to reset the level. Unfortunately, the game did not provide the ability to navigate back if you accidentally connected all of the balls. To return to previous levels, you must press the “+” to quit. This will allow you to return to the level select screen. Even though I was glad that this feature was included, I would have liked the ability to repeat levels from within the game after beating the chapter.
Of the first 60 levels, level 38 was my favorite because it combined elements of lasers and spikes. Level 56 introduced yellow/red/green combinations and required specialized timing for the lasers. Chapter 3 introduced a neon blue ball with alternating descending “water” columns. The white ball can touch the side of the column but cannot be squished by it. Level 48 introduced a new feature whereby you had to deal with inverse ball movements.
In addition to the side-scrolling/gravity feature of previous levels, you had to contend with connecting balls that dropped from the ceiling and had to merge with balls on the floor. This feature was rather neat and made me think about a larger dimensional space. As the orbs connected, the result could drop to either the top or bottom of the level depending on how the puzzle was designed.
Kombinera screamed classic Atari and did a good job at combining puzzle features with catchy music. I was a little disappointed in the limited story, but I have only played through the first three chapters. As you discover crowns, you will unlock special levels with extreme precision requirements.
I was able to complete secret level 5 but was not able to complete levels 1-4. Thanks to the 300 level design, hidden crowns, and time feature, the game will provide hours of replay value. At a price of under fifteen dollars, the game offers plenty to do. If you are not a fan of puzzle-like games, this may not be the game for you. However, if you are a fan of moving and physics puzzles, this game may be the perfect way to spend your time. This game will require trial and error tactics for many of the levels and you will want to continue to work toward completing the time/crown challenges.
RATED E for everyone
Available on Steam, EPIC Games, PS 4/5, Xbox One S/X, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, and Atari VCS