Kombinera review: Atari returns to classic form

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Title: Kombinera
Developer: Graphite Lab, Joystick
Publisher: Atari
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on), PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, mobile
Release Date: April 7, 2022

As a child who was born in 1980 alongside my slightly chubbier brother Pac-Man, I grew up with systems like Atari and Colecovision and all that. As proof, here’s me with my dad and my younger brother gaming. I’m fairly certain I was either 3 or 4 here.

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So when I make a headline stating that Atari returns to form, I speak from experience. This feels like an old Atari game.

Now, that has some good and bads.

I’ll get the bad out of the way first. The game doesn’t have a lot of personality to it. The “character” is a plain orb of varying colors. The screen is mostly black. The decor will occasionally be a stick tree or something in the like that reminded me of Moon Patrol. So while playing it could be fun, the emptiness kept me from playing it for long periods of time.

The other bad thing is that as the game is mostly black with white stage borders and few other colors, there are moments between worlds when the screen flashes bright with colors. These moments murdered my eyes. I have 20/20 and have only recently purchased my first pair of sunglasses only because my kid’s school requires me to drive directly into a sunrise every morning. So when I saw this was blinding, it was BLINDING. Here, if you’re not prone to seizures, I’ve captured some footage of it.

Okay, so onto the good, because there’s plenty of that as well.

Kombinera is played by controlling multiple balls through simple controls of left, right, jump, or small jump. It starts off really simple; you just have to make the balls combine. Get your juvenile jokes out of your system.

The first tricky part of this is that all the balls are controlled at the same time. If you move to the right, every ball moves to the right. So if you’re trying to get across the stage you need to make sure you’re not steering one of the other balls into lasers or spikes.

Second tricky bit is that there will be orbs of different colors. As the game goes on you’ll encounter many different orbs that match the colors of the different obstacles. Red orbs go through red spikes, green orbs block green lasers, blue orbs phase right through blue stomping machines, and yellow ones, as you can see here, destroy yellow walls and flooring.

As the orbs combine, they gain shared abilities. For example, you can see that when the white and yellow orb (I’m calling them orbs now) combine, they still keep the power of being to break yellow structures.

In a later stage, a white and blue orb mix allowing it to pass through stomping machines on its way to meet up with the red spike dodger. If they kept going that orb would be able to roll over spikes AND through smashers.

You’ll notice too that gravity is flipped here. That’s something that happens a LOT in later stages. Not only will gravity be flipped but it’ll be reversed for some of the orbs. And combining two orbs can create a situation where they’ll go one way or the other causing you to have to possibly rethink the whole stage because there’s really no good way of telling what’s going to happen when a regular orb and an orb with reversed gravity mix. It could go up, could go down. I’ve had many resets caused by this.

All these elements combine into a surprisingly complex but easy-to-understand puzzle game. The kind of puzzle where you’ll look at it, get overwhelmed by its impossible nature, suddenly see a solution and tear through it.

I only wish the game had a bit more personality to it because while I got 100 or so stages in on my first playthrough quite rapidly, the experience felt a little empty. But if you’re looking for a simple puzzle game with no heavy bells and whistles, this game’s got you. It feels like something I would have bought at the flea market for a couple of bucks for my Atari 5200 back in the 80s and that’s not really a bad thing.

Kombinera (Nintendo Switch) Score: 8/10

Kombinera promises a classic Atari experience and delivers on that. With the help of developers Graphite Lab and Joystick, they’ve created a puzzle game that constantly delivers enough twists over time to stay fresh. If you’re looking for a classic Atari experience and a solid puzzle game, this is for you. I’d have loved a bit more personality to it and the option to tone back the moments when bright colors assault you between worlds but the game itself is a very clever puzzle experience.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.