Friday, January 16, 2009

Of Laser Beaks and Exploding Killer Bees

Kolibri, for Sega’s 32X, is your basic hummingbird-based shoot ‘em up.

I'll say it again: Kolibri is a hummingbird-based shoot ‘em up. I know it sounds ridiculous – and it is – but that’s just part of this overlooked title’s charm.

I feel I should start with a confession: I never liked Ecco the Dolphin. It’s kind of boring and I never know what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s why I’m so surprised that I like Kolibri as much as I do. Like Ecco the Dolphin, the goals of each stage are never very clear and rounds begin and end in nondescript areas, but the game’s asinine concept, stunning visuals and haunting tunes keep me coming back.

In a medium that prides itself on shattering one’s nerves, Kolibri sticks out as the most serene game I've ever played. The photorealistic graphics use the 32X's increased color pallet to the fullest. Foliage, water, animals and sunsets (the glorious sunsets!) are truly a sight to behold. Happyish, new age synthesizer music floats through your speakers during half the levels in the game and can be very soothing at times; the other tunes are panicky and urgent, but both sets fit the action in an odd, “I’m a badass, rapid-fire hummingbird off to save the Earth,” kind of way. The gameplay is only average, blending the action sensibilities of a spacer shooter with the free-roaming gameplay mechanics of Ecco, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps sucking the player back in.

The controls are decently responsive, with the d-pad taking on the movement responsibilities, one fire button and one “speed burst button.” Most of the cavalcade of available weapons are easy to use, but the few that aren’t pretty much kill any fun you may have been having before picking them up. Here’s a tip: Ditch the small bullets or the “ring beam” for something heat-seeking, like the laser beams or the blue and yellow sphere thingies. Trying to control the inferior weapons is akin to typing a midterm with just your nose – it’s possible, but why would you put yourself through the frustration when you could have had a much easier time of it all?

If you like Ecco the Dolphin (for some reason), if you’re looking for something unique, or if you just need a reason to take Virtua Fighter out of your 32X, give Kolibri a shot. Check it out: The manual even gives you tips on how to build your own hummingbird feeder. I’m just upset that when I made a feeder after buying the game 14 years ago, the hummingbirds that came to visit didn't start blowing up the beehives around my house with their laser beaks.

You lied to me about nature again Sega, (see: Sonic the Hedgehog, Dynamite Dux, Talespin, etc.) but it’s so much better than the truth that I forgive you.

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