Kombinera review (PS4)

Developed by Graphite Lab and Joystick, Kombinera is a brand new abstract puzzler published by none other than Atari. It’s out for nearly every platform you can think of, including mobile and Atari’s own VCS – we checked it out on a PlayStation 4.

Atari was once perhaps the biggest name in gaming, but after a number of changes in ownership and management it’s no longer the powerhouse it was in the 1970s and 1980s. The brand is reinventing itself a little though, and despite the fact that the jury is still out on the VCS console they’re released a number of “Recharged” versions of their classic arcade games that we’ve really enjoyed. Kombinera is a brand new original title from Atari though, so that alone was enough to get us curious about it – and it’s a game that should please hardcore puzzle fans.

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In recent months, I’ve played a lot of (narrative-driven) puzzle games, so it was nice to go back and play a game that focuses exclusively on puzzles – especially one that has over 300 puzzles to complete. Kombinera has an interesting central concept too, one that immediately grabbed me because of similarities to other games I’ve enjoyed in the past. Essentially, your goal is to bring together two (or more) balls in each level, combining/kombining them, but the trick is that you control all of them at once.

Obviously, this opens things up to having you position one ball against a wall while the other one moves, but this basic concept is gradually and cleverly expanded on in a number of ways. Color-coding is a big one, with obstacles that can or cannot be passed by balls of a certain color. Once two balls merge, they take on the color/capabilities of both original balls, which often opens up a new pathway for you.

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It’s simple enough, and I previously enjoyed the “controlling multiple elements at once” mechanics in games like Kalimba, Deleveled and Semispheres, so I had a rough idea of what to expect. Kombinera quickly ramps up the difficulty level though, after explaining the core concepts in the first handful of challenges. Where the first two dozen levels were greeted with “I got it!” within moments of starting, subsequent levels proved to have some real brain-scratchers among them.

Some levels, however, are merely difficult because they require a good bit of precision platforming to complete – which can be frustrating if the game is looking for pixel perfect movements. Perhaps I was just looking for the solution in the wrong spot there, but be aware the Kombinera can be quite unforgiving.

It may not feel anything like Atari’s arcade history, but Kombinera is an excellent indie puzzler with plenty of content and challenge for fans of the genre.

Score: 7.5/10

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