Developer: Two Tribes
Released Date: 5/22/09
If someone would have made me fill out a survey for the top three reasons as to why I bought an iPhone a month ago, I would have listed “best smartphone available” as reason #1, “has the most available applications” as reason #2, and, “free GPS based around Google Maps” would have been third. On the other hand, the iPhone as a gaming platform would have been around 639th, right around, “I never needed that $400 anyway” and, “owning an iPhone makes me sexier to the opposite sex.” I had my fill of gaming on Apple’s portable devices with the iPod classic, playing crappy versions of such classics as Ms. Pac Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Galaga, and Song Summoner… or at least trying to, with that God-awful clickwheel. Song Summoner was far and away the best iPod game for the system, and if they had charged more than $5 for it, I wouldn’t have deem it worth the money. Considering the gimmicky nature of the touch device, Apple’s casual game audience, and the iPhone’s popularity, and it’s Wii Syndrome all over again: shovelware as far as the eye can see. I’ve played one game I didn’t absolutely loathe for the device, and that’s The Oregon Trail, a game that’s hard to screw up.
Long story short, I haven’t exactly been relishing the prospect of reviewing iPhone games. They tend to suck, and they tend to be buggy. To be completely honest, I looked at my first project, Toki Tori, a bit sceptically. Then I did some homework, and learned that the game had history dating back to 1994, as a game called Eggbert on the MSX2. It had also subsequently been released in its original iteration as one of the last Game Boy Colour games, and had subsequently been remade for Windows Mobile platforms and WiiWare. Every version of the game garnered positive reviews, with the WiiWare version being nominated for both Best Puzzle Game and Best WiiWare Game of 2008 on IGN.
I had learned all of this after starting this game, which I had went in with no prior knowledge of. I quickly learned what all the hype was about; Toki Tori is a great game.
The story is that you’re the last remaining chick that can save your friends, who are still in their shells. That’s the last you hear of any kind of plot in this game. The whole objective is to save the eggs, and to do this, you have to walk around ledges and enemies, using items that you’re given at the start of each level. Your chick has very limited abilities: he can’t fly, and he can only go up ledges half his size. This means if he ends up one-on-one with an enemy, he will lose the engagement. Therefore, the main crux of the game is finding the best route to get to each egg, while avoiding any enemies that come along. You use touch controls to move. Just tap an area, and you’ll move to that area (provided you can get there), and tap the bird itself to make it turn around. The game will figure out the best way to get to a point, but if it’s a way you don’t want to go for whatever reason, you can tap somewhere else and have that be the used route. You can check out the entire map by zooming out, which is doable by expanding two fingers away from each other (the same way you would in Safari).
What I’ve just described is the entire crux of the game. If you’re looking for a revolution, go check out the videos of that newfangled all-body controller that Microsoft’s showing off at E3. All you’ll get here is a fantastic strategy game. The game doesn’t put you under any real pressure to do anything with any urgency, instead letting you check things out, determine a strategy, and move from there. If you make a mistake, or get dinged, no problem, you just get to start the stage over. There are unlimited lives, so progression throughout the game is entirely at your leisure. Furthermore, the touch controls work almost flawlessly. I very rarely had to correct my route for any other reason than I screwed up, and touch detection is perfect.
There’s a learning curve to the game, but it’s very well done. There’s no spike where things get too hard, and no valley where the game becomes easy. Each stage is progressively more involved than the last one, leading to some hard (some would say frustrating) stages at the end of the game. If there’s one flaw I can pick out, it’s that the later stages can get frustrating, where you’re given a lot to manage, and there’s only one real way to finish stages. This requires a level of precision that younger gamers will have a problem with, but older gamers will be challenged well. This is the type of game that lends itself well to parents working with their children to get through more taxing stages, which makes sense, considering the fact that I haven’t seen anyone under twelve years old with their own iPhone yet, meaning most kids are going to be playing on their parents’ phone.
If a stage is just too hard to beat and you want to advance in the game, you’re given a bit of a get out of jail free card with the wildcard option. This lets you bypass a stage and move on with the game; you get it back by going back and beating that stage. Some stages are harder for some people than others, so this is yet another great way of providing a great game to people while still letting them enjoy it to the fullest.
What’s best about everything I’ve mentioned is that the game sucks you in with a palpable charm that is simply off the charts. Toki Tori looks great for an iPhone game, with smooth animation and well done sprites and backgrounds, including some impressive lighting effects on some of the later stages. There isn’t a great variety in the music, but what’s there is very well done. I’m twenty-nine years old, and what some people would call jaded (My critics would argue I’m virtually Grinch-like, among the things I can repeat in a G-rated review.) and I was literally smiling at times while playing this game. Why am I just finding out about this game in 2009 again? It doesn’t matter how old you are; if you have kids, they’ll be entranced, but don’t be surprised if you are too.
One thing that I’d love to see with Toki Tori, sadly, is something that’s not possible at the moment due to the iPhone’s limitations: downloadable content. This game begs for new stages after the main game is finished, but that’s just not an option with the iPhone at the moment. It’s being rumoured as of this writing that iPhone 3.0 is going to support this. If this is the case, I stress to Two Tribes and Chillingo that this should be a priority. The latter stages are hard, but once they’re done, there’s little reason to go back. DLC would turn this from a great game to a GOTY contender. Even without that, however, the game is $5. Read that again: everything positive I’ve said about the game, and it’s five dollars. I spend less than that at Wendy’s, and don’t leave there as satisfied as I was playing this.
Sound: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Toki Tori is a delightful game to play, and is something I can fully recommend to gamers of any age level; kids will be entertained, while adults will be charmed yet challenged. For five dollars, this is a steal. It’s also by far the best iPhone game I’ve ever played, and compares favourably to similar games on the more famous DS and PSP systems.
I went in expecting drivel, and was blown away by the subtle quality I experienced. All credit is due to Two Tribes for their work on a fantastic title.