With so many titles on eShop – from tiny mobile curios to triple-A epics – being ‘good’ simply isn’t be good enough anymore; you need something unique or dazzling to stand out in the crowd. Set in the subconscious dreamworld of a young girl named Kora, Koloro is a one-button (or touch) puzzle-platformer. Morphed into a squidgy cube by her imaginary companion, Boo, you guide Kora through hazardous, single-screen levels, wall-jumping towards an exit while seeking her lost sister, Lora. It’s a delicate and supremely competent indie game, but as with most dreams, it’ll likely – and unfortunately – be forgotten before long.
Which makes it sound unfairly slight or inconsequential; no, it’s a polished effort from first-time developer Sköll Studio with hours of satisfying gameplay. Kora’s cube is responsive, sliding automatically (you wall-jump to change direction) and squelching upon landing, with each jump emitting a note in tune with the ambient soundtrack. Tension increases as hazards manifest; creatures begin stalking levels, quakes cause chambers to collapse forcing you to make haste and scattered gems must be collected to make exits appear. Level names on a basic overworld map make the self-reflective dreamscape explicit and multiple exits create branches to explore.
Variations on familiar mechanical themes are competently (if predictably) introduced, including invisible platforms, lasers, darkness, reversed gravity and collectible orbs enabling you to move amongst or even destroy the marauding baddies. Silhouetted platforms and walls carry switches and other interactive elements that can be tricky to spot, especially in the busier later stages. Spikes, sticky walls, fireflies that block routes until you activate a light to draw them away and Deku-like dudes sprouting from the ground when you tickle their leaves are just some of the things you come across.
A boss awaits you at the end of each of the four chapters; these encounters involve waiting to ‘attack’ while negotiating projectiles in an increasingly restrictive and dangerous arena. They’re simple, logical battles, although it may take several attempts to find the pattern you need to succeed. Things get pretty challenging as you progress and it’s easy to lose concentration and mistime a jump. Koloro is all about timing, and often simply waiting is the key: waiting that extra fraction of a second while sliding down a wall so your jump arcs over the spikes; waiting until a bat passes or slug hits a switch and sets up the gauntlet run to the goal. It’s tempting to rush when you know what you’re doing, which inevitably leads to failure and frustration – patience is key.
Aesthetically, Koloro mashes the Euclidean character design of Monument Valley with the stark blacks and colourful backgrounds of World of Goo. Super Meat Boy is an obvious mechanical touchstone, although in an auto-running guise (indeed, Team Meat’s upcoming sequel is doing away with the D-pad, too). In fact, a catalogue of familiar artistic and mechanical influences from a decade of indie puzzle-platformers provoke a feeling of déjà vu, and we spent a long time wondering where we’d seen this or that idea before. Its meditative, self-exploratory narrative, for example, does little to set it apart from a dozen other games where every creeping demon is a personal one. That’s not to say it’s bad – far from it – but Koloro journeys through well-trodden territory and struggles to make its own mark.
By inviting comparisons to indie classics, even the tiniest irritations become magnified. Levels aren’t super long but losing a minute’s progress is annoying in the longer stages and millisecond audio breaks between stages disrupt the flow a little. Each level has a target time to test yourself against, and two-player mode introduces unique levels to work through co-operatively with a second player controlling Lora. The one-button gameplay translates nicely to multiplayer, although the frustrations experienced in solo are doubled here; mistiming a final jump over some spikes after painstakingly negotiating a level means restarting and you’ll need double the patience to put up with a partner’s failure.
In the course of writing this review, we continually confused the names of both the game and the protagonist (Hang on, is it Korolo? The girl’s called Koro… no, Kora…) and, try as we might, it just would not stick. While our frazzled end-of-year braincells are most likely to blame, this problem represents a critical obstacle the game fails to overcome: its lack of any unique hook on which to hang an identity. A lot of love clearly went into Koloro, and it’s engaging and beautiful in many ways, but without a standout feature to call its own, it’s slipping from our minds even as we write.
There’s no shortage of charming, artistic puzzle-platformers on Switch and Koloro is certainly a good one; there’s much to like in its simple mechanics and narrative, and there’s satisfaction to be found in its puzzle-solving. The problem is that you’ve almost certainly seen everything it has to offer somewhere before and, as much as it engages your grey matter while you play, it’s unlikely to stay with you in the same way the games it evokes do.