Kolibri (Novotrade, 1995)

It seems a bit lopsided to be writing about hummingbirds and hornets in late November... but this is the kind of game for which I readily make exceptions. I never had a 32x for my Genesis, but a kid who lived down the street did. His name was Brian too (except, of course, spelled differently), and he was a lot like that Lazy Town character, Stingy. What I'm getting at is that Brian seemed to get a perverse thrill out of being overtly antagonistic, always had a shitty bite-back for everything, and absolutely lorded over his material possessions like Cerberus at the gate to Hades.

Occasionally, when he wasn't feeling malevolent (or just not malevolent enough to shun company), he'd invite me to play video games with him. It was in this realm that I saw my first wedgie and my first instance of a non-baby crapping his pants. I also saw Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Sonic... and then, when the Sega CD and the 32x got united with the Genesis into some unwieldy (unholy) sort of Voltron... that's when things marched out to left field and set up camp.

This kid and I ended up becoming decent friends by the time he and his family packed up and hopped a jetliner to Who Knows Wheresville, and we'd done it saving Dana Plato from vampires, nudging Kid Chameleon carefully through the Blood Swamp... but we never saw hide nor hair of this game. Maybe he saw it and didn't like it. I love it now like I would have then. A shooter fan from the first time I played Galaga at an old bowling alley, the genre has bolted itself to my heart. It's a formula you can't go too wrong with, providing excitement and a good test for the reflexes.

But you aren't usually a cute little hummingbird. You're usually a badass theoretical spaceship design or perhaps a robot who can fly.

Like a tiny little flying Yes album.

Like a tiny little flying Yes album.

Kolibri was conceived among the minds of a firm then known as Novotrade. I don't imagine there's ever been a ton of developers in Hungary; that's no slur against Hungarians, but you just... well, you don't hear about Hungary's booming games trade. Of all places, it's where Novotrade was based when they adventurously set the heroic hummingbird free on the 32x world. One year later, in 1996, Novotrade relocated, settling itself proudly in sunny California. A change of name was also decided to be in order, and so they became Appaloosa Interactive.

But back to he bird.

Left to Right: The Euro and US box art. I guess Nihon didn't want none of this one...

Here is the backstory of Kolibri, part of which you get to act out on your own: While not common knowledge among humans, it is well know among the animals that a sentient crystal is the source of much of Earth's life. Of course, eventually its antithesis arrived, in as hot a pursuit as crystals hurtling through space might hope to achieve: an evil, corrupt crystal-being, intent on undoing all that had been done and then some. The crystals wage a low-profile war with each other, and just before its demise the original crystal looks around itself desperately. It hopes to find a creature worthy of its powers... and transfers them into the body of a tiny little hummingbird who's spent all day being bullied. I'm not joking about this. The game starts you off very close to a bunch of other male hummingbirds, who will gang-push you away from any flower they can see.

Anyway, not only does the Earth crystal grant the cute little bird its power, it also imparts upon him very strongly the dire situation at hand. So now we have our champion, the being who will save Earth from the evil crystal... a tiny, hyperactive bird whose taxonomic family averages just over 4 inches in length, the heaviest known species averaging a tremendous 20 grams.

To be fair though, you do get homing lasers and shit...

Tiny little orbs simply fill the air in some locales, each containing its own gun swap. You can also get “lives,” that is to say insurance against being whomped and having to start over. As someone who's always initially sucked at any game until I've had a month or two to really absorb it, I did appreciate one gentle slope to Kolibri: while you can run out of lives and get a Game Over, you effectively have infinite continues.

If I were to make one gripe about Kolibri, it'd be this: it shares something in common with another Novotrade game featuring an animal as the hero... Ecco the Dolphin. What I'm dancing around is that Kolibri features a few more puzzles than one might find reasonable. These get more difficult on a quick scale, but I only had to look online for the way through a couple of them. They take the form of entire area, again not unlike Ecco. However, there are far worse things than monotonous puzzles out there, as the intrepid little trochilid battles nearly every conceivable kind of creature from the wilderness. I seems that evil crystal has been doing a lot of recruiting in preparation for its nihilist suicide/genocide/ice cream party.

Dickhead.

Dickhead.

Over on the upside, we have an obvious place to launch; the game plays much like a shooter, and the story unfolds in a truly rich, vibrant game world. While they certainly didn't break it in half, Novotrade seems to have taken great advantage of the superior color range the 32x offers over its 16-bit nucleus. It also has delightful music, though there's not much variety to it.

After playing the game about 90% to completion, I would drop Kolibri's difficulty nearly in the exact middle for the type of game it is. You skirmish with hornets, frogs, violet scorpions, snakes, and lots of creatures capable of pummeling you flat. Why did I really stop, though? Well, the later game is just a it too involved for my taste as of late. If I'm gonna get that invested, give me stats and XP.

After weighing the good and the bad, Kolibri gets 7/10 from me. It's a vibrant game that draws you in, and it holds an immense initial charm. However, the game's long-term fun factor suffers as the puzzle challenges and grist-mill combat progress bar the door shut on your attention span. Despite all this, and despite myself, I do think a little hummingbird was a daring and ballsy choice for a protagonist. I think the only major thing wrong with Kolibri is that it handed us a weaponized hummingbird and made us solve Ecco the Dolphin puzzles with it.