Indie Classic Review: Toki Tori
Having spent the past few weeks moving house and decorating, there has been much keeping me from PC gaming (though admittedly the PC was amongst the first things to be set up). Thank goodness for the Humble Android Bundles, which meant that I could game on the go.
Largely, I have been playing Toki Tori, a delightful puzzle game by Two Tribes (also behind such greats as EDGE, RUSH, Swords & Soldiers, and others besides) in which you control a small, yellow, flightless bird whose mission it is to gather up his lost siblings, inexplicably scattered about four different themed ‘zones’, using an array of items to help you on your way. Along the way you will meet a variety of creatures, all of whom seem to wish you harm, as well as a variety of (occasionally thinly-veiled) pits of spikes. Other than all of this, it is nothing like Taito’s 1988 flop The New Zealand Story.
The game itself started its incubation period in the ’90s, as Eggbert (for the MSX 2), before getting rehatched under its current name on the Game Boy Color in 2001, the work of members of the original design team in their own studio who decided to go free range after Fony flew the coop in 1997. This reboot received high critical praise, particularly for its extremely intelligent puzzle design, but was not the success it perhaps deserved to be.
Gameplay itself is fairly simple; you can move about and use items entirely by clicking. Toki Tori will chart the most direct possible course from where he is now and where you would like him to be (though he is not so savvy as to avoid traps and enemies without your intervention). The levels are very well designed and the solution, once reached, never feels too much a stretch of imagination; it is a tough game at points, to be sure, but not impossible. That said, I have only played through the main game plus a mere handful of the hard levels, so there are still challenges awaiting me I am as yet to try.
This is puzzler far more than it is platformer (there be no jumping here) and there is often only one path through a given level. The items you are presented with a very limited and, more often than not, are required to be used at precise points with some degree of timing. All of this could be a problem if not for the rewind function that allows you some degree of experimentation and a margin for error (though there are still times you will find yourself rewinding the vast majority of a level because the game intended you to head off in a different direction almost from the get-go).
Were this not a puzzler, with each level standing as an isolated puzzle along a theme (determined by the environments, which each have a different item associated with them), then this rigidity may be more of an issue. [As an aside, the developers seem to have decided that they would prefer a more open world and gameplay style encouraging of player experimentation and Toki Tori 2 seems to be shaping up to be quite a leap from its predecessors. Whether this is going to be what Lemmings 2: The Tribes was to Lemmings remains to be seen.]
If you like a cerebral challenge, are prepared to be occasionally frustrated (but, in turn, rewarded by perseverance) and yearn for a contemporary character-centric puzzle game in the old-school style (cf. Lemmings, Pushover, The Humans, &c.), then Toki Tori is a pretty solid start.
Summary: Toki Tori is easy on the eyes and tough on the brain. A great debut from an indie studio that has since become synonymous with puzzling prowess.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Verdict: 7 out of 10