Kombinera: Simplistic Retro Gaming at its Finest

If you haven’t heard of Kombinera, don’t worry. You’re not alone. When Gareth Von Kallenbach first asked me to review this game, I had no idea what it was, but I am so glad that he asked me to do so. Kombinera is a 2D puzzle platformer that should be on everyone’s list as one of those games used to pass the time. The only problem is, that you want that time to keep going.

You begin Kombinera controlling two balls and your goal is to merge them together. The color of the ball will determine which objects in the landscape it will be invulnerable to (e.g., red balls touch red spikes without dying), and as you progress through the game more balls are added to the mix. The premise is simple and easy to get, but believe me when the use of “perilous” in the description on the Steam Store page couldn’t describe it better.

But not only is the game simply hard, but it’s also never quite out of reach. There were a few puzzles that I had to sit back and just take in the level for a few minutes before doing anything really. Just staring, and then it occurred to me that while things look complicated, there are often simple answers. Simple answers, but maybe not always simple executions. You will die. Continuously. But at least you are thrown right back in without much waiting between deaths.

To keep you coming back through the 300 levels of Kombinera new balls with new powers are thrown in. I already mentioned the red balls above, though some may call them purple, there’s also yellow which can break bricks. And when you merge these two balls, your new creation has the ability of both. Adding these powers to the game gives enough to make even the rarely reused level design fresh later on in the game. Each time a ball with new power is introduced, you get a couple of what I call “gimme” levels to get accustomed to the new power you can wield.

Managing 5 balls might not seem challenging to some (but who?), and Kombinera knows this. For added challenges, you will find optional crows scattered through the levels. If you want to get these royal headpieces you will have to approach the level in a slightly different manner in order to collect the crown, and they can be pretty difficult to obtain. It was also refreshing to see that they didn’t just add a crown to every level just because. You can tell that the crowns’ placement was well thought out and included in the level design rather than a last-minute addition.

The bright colors of the levels and balls are a perfect contrast to the pitch-black background. Whether you’re playing on QLED, OLED, or just LED, the game just pops. The subtle gray gridlines help immensely not only in just creating a better visual for the level, but they can also serve as markers to let you know where you need to stop before rolling to your inevitable death and starting over.

I wouldn’t say that Kombinera is one of those games that you sit down with for hours on end. From my experience, I preferred it in small doses, around 15-30 minutes, rather than the 1-2 hours (or more) that you can easily put into other games. My biggest issue with this is that it feels like a better game for on the go than at home in front of your computer. There are ways to be able to do this through Steam, including the recently released Steam Deck (though I have not found it on their verified list), but they are not as accessible as other means.

To sum it all up, Kombinera is an excellent platform puzzler with a steady increase in challenges that will keep you coming back for more. If puzzle games are your thing, and you mind feeling dumb about half the time trying to figure out these levels, then Kombinera is definitely the game for you. I reviewed the Steam version (which was provided to me for free for the purpose of this review), but I enjoyed the game so much, I went out and purchased a copy on the Nintendo Switch just for pure portability. This will be the perfect thing to distract me while traveling to the East Coast in a few weeks. It would have been perfect for my recent trips to the Doctors while waiting to be seen.