Saving the world is nothing new in video games. Kolibri however, puts a different spin on the concept. Instead of a space marine or a knight, Kolibri puts a hummingbird, appropriately named Kolibri, up to this task. While this would seem like an odd choice for a hero, your little bird buddy can shoot all kinds of destructive lasers from his tiny beak, making him a deceptively powerful main character. Kolibri gets his name for being the word for “humming bird” in numerous European languages. It’s well known as “The Best Hummingbird-based Shooter Available For The 32X” by the webcomic Penny Arcade during one of their “We’re Right” award ceremony series and garnered a little bit of attention. Despite its rather silly reputation, it’s still a very fun and unique game.
Developed by Hungarian studio Novotrade, Kolibri showcases the 2D capabilities of Sega’s 32X add-on while providing an engaging and original experience. The style of gameplay depends on the level. Sometimes the pace is fairly slow, with the goal being to figure out how to get to the exit. Sometimes it involves defeating all of a specific type of enemy. Other times it involves finding a key hidden somewhere in the oftentimes maze-like levels to open a door. Most of the time it involves avoiding the hummingbirds’ natural predators, like frogs, scorpions, snakes and chameleons. (It’s tough being so tiny, after all!) Most than half of the game’s 19 stages consist of these nonlinear puzzle-solving style areas, though the rest of the stages are rounded out with typical sidescroller shooter levels.
The controls are pretty simple, and are rather reminiscent of Novotrade’s other acclaimed series, Ecco The Dolphin. A is the action button. You use it to activate doors (once you have the keys) and to drink nectar from flowers, which can produce health powerups. You can also press A to make your shield stronger, but this only works if you have the right powerup. The B button fires a weapon. If you hold the weapon while moving backwards, Kolibri’s facing will lock and you can move anywhere while facing the desired direction. You can use many different types of lasers he can fire from his beak. Which one you have can be seen by his coloration. All of Kolibri’s colors are based off of real hummingbirds, which is a pretty cool bonus. Lastly, the C button is used to make you zip in any direction, similar to how Ecco The Dolphin could gain a burst of speed out of nowhere.
There is a handful of different weapons. The default weapon that shoots in a straight line, although if you’re moving upward, it slants up and if you’re moving down, it slants downward. It’s not terrible powerful though. You also have a ripple laser that is pretty much the same thing from Konami’s Gradius. It’s very powerful and good for taking out large enemies. There is a defensive weapon that puts a tail of light balls around Kolibri that homes in on enemies. You also pick up an item that slows down time, though this is more for puzzle solving than anything. The other weapons are not as interesting. These include a homing laser, a spread shot, and a less interesting homing attack. All of the powerups come from tiny balls that the manual does not explain, so it’s up to you to figure out which ball gives what power.
There’s also no trace of a Heads Up Display. How much health you have is only visible when you get hit. When hit, a number of shadow hummingbirds will fly out of Kolibri, which is equal to the number of health left. Any items you are carrying such as keys are displayed by orbiting around Kolibri as he flies. Additionally, Kolibri does not use extra lives. If you die, you are sent back to the last check point and get a password.
The lack of HUD actually does a lot for Kolibri‘s atmosphere. Graphics are very detailed with very elaborate backgrounds and large bright sprites that showcase some impressive rotation effects. The game takes full advantage of the 32X’s 2D graphical capabilities and expanded color palette, and looks absolutely beautiful. The locations mostly take place in nature and are very lushly detailed. Some of these include grassy plains, dense forests, and ancient temples. The sprite designs are also impressive. Many enemies have multiple moving parts and are made from many sprites. Snakes in particular look the most impressive, as they are huge and tend to move very fluidly.
Kolibri has a cooperative two-player mode, which is surprisingly well implemented. It changes the story in the beginning, but only slightly. Kolibri is split into two super powered hummingbirds when he gains his powers and the two hummingbirds have to work together zipping through levels and solving puzzles. This doesn’t affect the game itself all that much, though.
The manual is about as unique as the game itself. Besides providing background story, it has hummingbird facts and can even show you how to make your own hummingbird feeder. It also recommends books for further reading if you’re interested in learning more about hummingbirds. Furthermore, there’s also a little hummingbird at the bottom of every odd numbered page that can be used as a flipbook.
Kolibri was designed by Ed Annunziata, the same man behind Ecco The Dolphin and the early Genesis/Mega Drive title Chakan The Forever Man. Ed Annunziata would go on to be the executive producer of Nokia’s N-Gage before working on mobile phone games. Novotrade ended up being absorbed into Appaloosa Interactive, which still makes games today.
The soundtrack is also quite excellent. It’s sometimes very quiet and subdued, featuring atmospheric nature sounds. Other times the music is intense and can pump you up for the action sequences while still retaining a kind of nature feel. It accompanies the game very nicely and adds a lot of character to an already unique game.
Interview with Zsolt Dvornik
Zsolt Dvornik is the man behind Kolibri‘s unique and amazing soundtrack. He also did the music for Exo Squad and Cyborg Justice. As of 2012, he teaches jazz guitar.
How did you get involved with Novotrade and The Kolibri Project?
Well, I was responsible for music and sound effects. I had to write intricate programs and use difficult tools. There were no tools available. We had to write our own tools.
What was it like working at Novotrade? Was it easy? Hard?
Well, we were young. We really enjoyed making games. It was different than an everyday workplace. We were all very enthusiastic. We wanted to do our best. It was a really nice work environment with nice people. It was an office workplace. We were able to shape our workplace how we like. It was cool.
The music in Kolibri is beautiful. What were some of your inspirations when making the soundtrack?
Oh, thank you. We had to have the music sound like how it was supposed to sound. We had a set of instruments we had to use and used them to make the sounds and sound effects.
Was it difficult to translate your music to the Genesis synth?
We made all the tools ourselves. There was nothing to translate. It was all made for the 32X.
What were some other game related projects you worked on?
I did music and sound effects for Cyborg Justice. I also worked on Exo Squad.
I remember Exo Squad‘s music. That had really good music too.
Well, that one’s different. It’s rock; it’s a different style of music. In an action game it almost doesn’t matter what it sounds like. If you need a trumpet, you’ve got a trumpet.
What was the gaming scene like in Hungary back in the late 80s and early 90s?
It was a long time ago. I wasn’t really into games. I was more into computers and music. The Nintendo and the Genesis were not that big at the time. Computers were more popular.