Metroidvanias don’t get much more no-nonsense than Kalinur. Having skipped through the four or five Powerpoint slides about an evil wizard taking over a castle, you’re straight into the action. There’s no tutorial and no map: just you, a sword, and a castle to explore.
That map does eventually arrive, squirrelled away in a chest in the first few rooms. But it’s only when you unfurl it that you realise this is one sprawling game map. There are no additional worlds – no volcano world, ice world or any of that nonsense – just a single castle with an improbable number of rooms. We doubt if Mr Bezos has an estate this large.
We get a fair few Metroidvanias through our doors, so the simplicity is oddly refreshing. There’s barely an upgrade system to be spoken of (some statues offer health and attack power-ups, but that’s it), and there are no collectibles outside of the coins that pay for the two upgrades. It’s just the simple loop of exploring until you hit upon either a dead-end or a boss. If it’s a dead-end, you should probably head off in another direction; if it’s a boss, then prepare to fight, and a new power awaits you afterwards. With the double-jump, magical seal-breaking and other powers, you might even be able to retrace your steps and pass that dead-end.
As we said, no-nonsense. That stretches to your little warrior’s powers. There really is only a jump and a slash, but these work well. There’s no hidden latency or splashy impact. We would argue that the sword could have benefited from a longer reach, and we certainly would have taken some significant upgrades, rather than the incremental improvements to damage, but it always feels on-point. You thwack something, the collision-detection feels right, and there’s often a stun to the enemy, allowing the sword to be a mean defense as well as offense.
Enemies are surprisingly varied. As you move through the castle, into its bedrooms and dungeons, you will note that the enemies quickly change up. There’s nothing sensational in what they do, but they tick all the Castlevania boxes of having arcing axe-throwers, flying beasties (a couple of which are absolute buggers), and lance-wielders that charge at speed. Importantly, there’s only a handful of each in Kalinur, so you rarely get bored with them. Most can be bypassed too, which is nice. If you’re quick, you don’t have to fight them at all.
Which is important, considering Kalinur’s leading issue. For some inexplicable reason, it is impossible to fast-travel in Kalinur. There are numerous statues dotted about the map where you can save and upgrade, so you can see where they might have been placed, But a designer, somewhere, has made the choice of not allowing you to teleport between them.
Now, that’s a bold choice. Because, as we mentioned earlier, it’s entirely possible to hit a dead-end in Kalinur. If you’ve headed in the wrong direction, you have to trek on your little two feet back to a statue or the next path. That becomes inordinately annoying on plenty of occasions. Looking to hoover up the last few rooms to get 100% completion? Walk all the way. Looking to grind upgrades before a hard boss fight? Walk all the way. We’d estimate that we spent 40 to 50% of our play-time uselessly backtracking through rooms we’d already completed.
It’s got some oddnesses, too. There is a very clear enemy for farming coins. Spirits infinitely spawn, and you can stand in place as they bum-rush you, whacking each and every one of them. It’s so, so much better for generating coins than any other enemy, so we felt compelled to sit there and get all the cash we ever needed. There was even an achievement for it, so the developers were aware But the problem is that it completely devalues the coins you get elsewhere, and the farming bit isn’t, well, fun. We’re not entirely sure what the thinking was around them.
The bosses are far from farmable, however. They are regularly a clear difficulty spike in an otherwise pretty easy game. Even with all of your upgrades, paid for through cheap spirit-killing, they can be a speed-hump. We’re not convinced by them, because they’re either sponges that take too long to kill, or they’re the complete opposite, cheesable by standing in a location where they can never hit you. Find their secret spot, and you never have to worry about damage again.
As Kalinur progressed, the simplicity started to wear on us. We initially loved how it didn’t have any pretensions, jumping right into the fray without much narrative, tutorialising, complex game mechanics or even a map. It just went ally-oop and jumped straight into the killing.
But once we realised how much back-tracking and dead-ends would be involved in Kalinur, the simplicity started to hurt. Because there’s no joy in fighting the same skeleton for the umpteenth time: it’s easier to get cash from other creatures, there’s no XP or unlocks to be gained from them, and the combat never develops much beyond a simple slash. Fast-travel would have meant bypassing them, but we weren’t given even that.
There’s a half-hearted recommendation here. If the idea of a no-frills Metroidvania, done well, gets you reaching for a gamepad then Kalinur delivers. But its vanilla-ness doesn’t half become a pain when you’re traipsing through the same parts of the castle, over and over again.