Review: Toki Tori (Nintendo Wii)

Why he's named Toki Tori I have no idea.
Toki Tori
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Developer: Two Tribes
Publisher: Two Tribes
Release Date: June 2, 2008


As I mentioned in my review of Magnetica Twist, I tend to be a fan of puzzle games that actually require you to use your brain, with my sub-genre of choice being the venerable puzzle-platformer. Lode Runner, Lost Vikings and Adventures of Lolo was where it was at for young Nate, but unfortunately the genre, like many other old standbys, was driven out to the country and left at the side of the highway during the move to 3D.

Thankfully in recent years with to the rise of casual gaming and all three consoles trying to push smaller downloadable games, people are finally starting to come to terms with the fact that it’s still okay to play games with only two Ds in them. Many genres largely shunned for the past couple generations like shumps and 2D fighters are making a comeback, but no old-school genre can match the resurgence of the puzzle-platformer. N+, Braid, Crush, PixelJunk Eden; the list of slick new puzzle-platformers being showered with praise by reviewers and players alike goes on and on. Hell, somebody even went and finally made puzzle platforming work in 3D with Portal, a title the gaming community collectively declared better than sex (although admittedly a lot of them were guessing). Lost amongst this explosion of stylish new puzzle-platformers we have Toki Tori, quietly released on Nintendo’s WiiWare service a couple of months ago. This game does not dress itself up in stylish visuals or emo-laden storylines; it’s pure old-school puzzle platforming that would have been right at home during the 16-bit golden age of the genre, but does a throwback like this still stand-up against it’s flashier contemporaries? Let’s find out…

1) Story/Modes

Story-wise you’re a chicken named Toki Tori who’s out to collect eggs and that’s about all there is to that. What, you need more? Chicken, eggs; is there something about this you don’t understand? If it makes you feel better you can imagine the eggs are metaphors for uhhh, let’s say existential emotional justification…or something.

Anyways, as far as modes go, you only get the one main adventure mode, but there are some options to be found therein. A 2nd player can pick up a controller, draw on the screen and generally help you out in a simple version of multiplayer similar to what was in Mario Galaxy. It’s not really a full-fledged multiplayer mode but it’s a good way to make bored girlfriends feel like they’re involved. Unlike many WiiWare games Toki Tori also features a decent array of control options (Wiimote only, Wiimote and nunchuck and classic controller schemes are all available). While not overflowing with modes, Toki Tori certainly feels like a full-featured game.

Modes Rating: Decent

2) Graphics

This game would look right at home as a late Super Nintendo game. When I say that I don’t just mean in the sense that it’s 2D or dated technologically (which it is) but that even it’s art style is pure 16-bit with the bold visuals of an N+ or PixelJunk title nowhere in sight. The only place the game breaks out of it’s “is this an SNES game?” box is with Toki Tori himself and the enemies which are done up with them fancy polygon things, and thus animate a lot more smoothly than any sprite. The game’s old-school visuals aren’t necessarily a terrible thing though as the 16-bit era was the real heyday of puzzle-platformers and so for old-timers like me the visuals should feel like a nice fit.

Graphics Rating: Decent

Oh goodness...SPOOKY!

3) Sound

Now here’s somewhere I was really surprised. The music in this game is great, passing the “am I still humming the tunes after I turn off the game?” test with flying colors. I was actually sad when I completed the 2nd world because I liked its music so damn much. Aside from the music the sound effects are fine and while there’s no voice acting, that’s not a big deal as you can use the power of your mind to imagine Toki Tori sounding like anybody. Personally I went with Wilford Brimley.

Sound Rating: Great

4) Control and Gameplay

Toki Tori doesn’t really have an easy to promote high concept or hook, as the game instead sticks close to tried and true designs. You control Toki Tori who can run, crawl up small ledges and climb ladders, but is unable to jump or fly (despite his birdish nature). What he can do is use a number of tools such as bridges, blocks, bubbles and various guns that affect enemies in different ways. The game is essentially Lode Runner meets Lemmings with the challenge derived from a) plotting the correct path through the platform and ladder filled stages and b) properly managing your limited supply of tools. So no, the game isn’t overly unique, but if you’re going to copy you may as well copy the best.

The stages are smartly designed and even though you’ll have to repeat most of the later stages many, many times the game rarely becomes frustrating. With each retry you almost always feel as if you’re making progress and when you finally complete the stage it can be very satisfying. Wisely most of the stages are designed so that if you know what you’re doing you can play through them in under a minute; in other words when you mess up and have to restart you’re usually never losing more than a minute or so of playtime, which is a big part of why the game rarely frustrates.

The game also serves up a nice variety of control choices. Your first option is the somewhat gimmicky Wiimote-only scheme in which you lead Toki Tori using the pointer. Point anywhere, click and the chicken will find his way there (you can also cycle through your inventory of tools by flicking the Wiimote left and right). If you aren’t a big fan of this style of control (I wasn’t) you can also plug in the nunchuck and move using the analog stick, in fact you’re pretty much free to create your own hybrid control scheme. Plugging in the nunchuck doesn’t deactivate the pointer or motion functionality, so for instance you can still use the pointer to move Toki Tori most of the time and only use the control stick when more precise movement is required (which is how I did things). Finally if you hate the Wiimote and nunchuck for some reason (begging the question why you own a Wii at all) you can also play using the classic controller.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5) Replayability

Playing through all 40 regular stages took this reviewer nearly 10 hours, which would alone make Toki Tori one of WiiWare’s deepest titles, but there are also an additional 29 “Hard” stages unlocked as you play through the game (yes, the total number of stages does in fact add up to 69). Some of these Hard stages really live up to their name and those who want to complete all of them could easily find their total playtime stretching to 15 or 20 hours. The only WiiWare title that might boast more depth than this one is Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King and that game costs at least 5 dollars more than Toki Tori (and possibly a lot more than that if you pony up for the extra content). Toki Tori is the best value on WiiWare to date and one of the best for the Wii period.

Replayability Rating: Classic

6) Balance

Puzzle-platformers are a difficult genre to balance as what stages a person will find particularly challenging is subjective and dependant on their own unique thought patterns; a puzzle that stumps you, your friend will breeze right through. That said, Toki Tori does the best job it possibly can. Any time you get a new tool its function is clearly explained and you’re even given a mini-stage illustrating its use to play through. This is not a game that artificially inflates challenge by being vague about what your abilities are.

The challenge ramps up at a nice steady pace without any abnormally difficult or easy puzzles interrupting the flow. The 40 regular stages can get quite tricky, but they all should be beatable by pretty much anyone with persistence. The 29 hard stages on the other hand may be more than some folks can handle, but that’s okay as they’re entirely optional and can be played in any order you want.

The game even includes an ingenious little wildcard system. If you find yourself stuck, you can use your wildcard to skip the puzzle. You only get one wildcard, but you can get it back to use on another stage if you succesfully complete the stage you originally used it on. It may not sound like much, but it’s a great frustration safety valve and in most cases if you take a break from a puzzle for a while and tackle it fresh later it will go down much easier, so reclaiming your wildcard usually isn’t a problem. All in all the developers do a great job of making a traditionally frustrating genre as painless as possible without sacrificing challenge.

Balance Rating: Amazing

Chicken of the sea...

7) Originality

As I said before the game is basically Lode Runner meets Lemmings, so it’s not on the bleeding edge of ingenuity. Within this framework though the developers cook up plenty of clever puzzles and uses for the various tools, so it’s not as if the game is totally uninventive.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8) Addictiveness

This is definitely one of those “okay, one more try” kind of games and it’s very easy for one more try on a tough stage to turn into 20 more tries and suddenly an hour of your life has disappeared. Then when you actually beat the stage you of course have to at least check out the new stage you unlocked and suddenly you’re sucked into the whole cycle again.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9) Appeal Factor

On the “con” side Toki Tori, as mentioned before, doesn’t really have a high concept hook, nor is it part of a recognizable franchise. On the “pro” side, it’s got a cute mascot, it’s part of a genre that’s going through a resurgence and well, have you seen some of the stuff on WiiWare? If the general game buying public doesn’t find this more appealing than Major League Eating and Pong Toss there’s something seriously wrong.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

10) Miscellaneous

This game was a nice throwback to the halcyon days of my youth when I used to sit around playing Lost Vikings and Lemmings until my leg muscles atrophied, and while I don’t expect the game to strike this personal chord with everyone, even those that consider the original Playstation old-school gaming should be able to appreciate the rock solid design on display here. My one minor miscellaneous gripe is that the game does gobble a lot of that precious Wii internal memory (nearly 300 blocks). Considering the fact that there are prettier WiiWare games that consume less I can’t help but think Two Tribes could have optimized things a bit more.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Amazing
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Great

Final Score: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary

Toki Tori delivers big when it comes to providing old-school craftsmanship, value for your dollar and sun-glasses wearing chickens. Yes it’s lacking in the originality department and its story is no great shakes, but at least you don’t have to worry about Jonathan Blow getting pissed off at you for not interpreting it properly. Without a doubt worth 10 bucks, this and LostWinds are thus far the 2 WiiWare must-haves in my humble opinion.

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