Tomba! was one of those cult classic games that I completely missed the boat on, mostly on account of not owning a PlayStation when it was first released. I had heard good things about it, but by the time I had worked up the interest to finally give it a go, the after market prices on the game skyrocketed. In fact, go look at the current market value of the game now on eBay and Amazon and you’ll see that it is still not quite within a reasonable range (not too long ago, the game was going for upwards of $80-$90). So when it was announced that MonkeyPaw Games would be at the helm for a digital release, it was exciting news for both fans and curious onlookers alike as now anyone could get a chance to sample what the fuss was all about. Now that it’s out, is it worthy of the cult status it has earned for itself?
Tomba! takes place on an unmarked set of islands in the middle of the ocean and is home to a host of people that have lived in peace for many years. One day, seven evil pigs and their army of Koma Pigs invaded the land, twisting it with their magic, and claiming it as their own. Also living on the island, was a boy with pink hair who had his grandfather’s bracelet stolen by these pigs. In order to reclaim it, he’ll have to capture the evil pigs using Evil Pig Bags, which will subsequently restore the land back to its former glory.
It’s a fairly simple premise, but then, so are most platformers. I think what makes it most endearing, at least for me, is its striking similarities to the Dragon Ball anime series. The character Tomba is a child raised by his grandfather in the wild who has a precious artifact given to him by said grandfather, and would do anything to protect it. Even his hair looks kinda like Goku’s, minus the fact that it’s pink. So while the game doesn’t make the story front in center, it does at least lend purpose and a touch of humor to the experience, which is always a bonus.
Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable
In this console generation, despite having a number of 2D platformers still being released, many of them adopt a high definition cel-shaded look. So it was a bit jarring at first to readjust to Tomba!‘s 3D looking 2D sprites and polygonal backgrounds. It’s not that the visuals are particularly bad. On the contrary, for a 1998 PlayStation game they are quite good, though they will take some adjustment for those that hadn’t played the original or played a PS1 title all that recently.
As you progress through your adventure, you will occasionally unlock little anime cutscenes that depict what it is you’re doing in that particular point in the quest. These snippets occur rather frequently, all things considered, and have relatively high quality animation despite the low resolution of the video shown. Both the character designs and backgrounds are unique and varied, as each area you visit is a drastic change from the one before it. You might be in a tripped out mushroom forest one second and on the top of a windy mountain the next. Tomba himself behaves much like Sonic the Hedgehog in that he begins to fidget or perform other animations if you leave him sit still for too long. He also has one of the most interesting jumping animations ever found in a video game, with him performing a pseudo bellyflop with his arms and legs outstretched for the kill.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
While the game is not fully voice acted like others in its era, there are a few voiceovers during the anime cutscenes that while difficult to hear, sound pretty decent. Tomba himself has a few noises that he makes throughout the game, including intense cackling that can be found when you eat certain mushrooms or little bite sounds that he emits when pouncing on an enemy. The soundtrack lends itself well to the experience, particularly during the opening FMV as the theme song there is pretty catchy. There are a few spots, particularly in some of the towns, where the music tends to loop a bit more often than my sanity would normally allow. For the most part though, each tune is befitting of its particular zone and helps more than hinders your experience.
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
Tomba! is, at its core, a 2D platformer with a few RPG elements sprinkled in for good measure. You navigate the world on a 2D plane while pouncing on any enemies that get in your way, but the structure is more of one open world as opposed to separate individual stages. You are given various missions throughout the game either by encountering a situation that needs solving, or if an NPC requests help. You don’t have to do every mission that you run across, although the ones you complete will often net rewards in the form of AP and items. AP is used in obtaining certain rewards that have an AP requirement, though is not so much a currency as it is a threshold that you have to meet in order to earn whatever it is you’re seeking.
The button layout was kept rather simple for this game. The X button will cause Tomba to jump and go right into his, “I’m gonna eat you”Â pounce animation and he’ll immediately bite whomever he lands on top of. Once you have them in your grasp, you can hit the button again and he’ll fling them forward. Each enemy you defeat with net you experience towards that particular type and you’ll also earn AP to boot. You can have a weapon equipped to circle, which by default is Tomba’s blackjack, but can be anything from a boomerang to a grappling hook. Weapons have more range and is generally used to stun enemies or dispatch them when regular jumping isn’t feasible.
The triangle button will bring up your main menu and you can sift through all the items you picked up, including quest items, healing items, or weapons. Things such as the kind of pants you are wearing can be switched out for things that make you run faster or jump higher, and other items like the parasol can slow your descent when falling. The select button will bring you to another menu where you can see what events/missions you currently have active or completed, your status, and a map so you can get your bearings.
While you will generally navigate on a 2D plane, there are points where you can jump into the background in order to scale walls, or else the camera will turn 90 degrees so you can move left and right on a plane different than the one you were on. You can also interact with things in the background, such as signs to save your game or open doors to progress to a new area. Some places will change to an overhead perspective, such as villages and towns that limit you to moving about the map and talking with NPC’s.
With everything Tomba! has going on, the controls still handle well, though Tomba’s jumping feels a bit sensitive compared to his platformer brethren. When you make a jump and aim to the right, he goes waaay to the right, and it takes a bit to get used to the level of control you are given. I also had a few problems when interacting with objects that allow you to swing from them, such as tree branches and the like, as Tomba didn’t always want to latch on like he should. Some of the items and abilities you get later in the game do much to band aid these little quirks in the gameplay, but even until then, they’re nothing that holds the experience back by any means.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
While the game can technically be cleared in less than ten hours if you really try, there are a ton of side missions that can be cleared that aren’t normally required to finish the game. Many of them will impart additional equipment on you that might change up your experience from one playthrough to the next, so exploration on the part of the player often goes rewarded. There’s more to do than your average 2D platformer and considering the low price of admission, that’s not a bad deal at all.
Replayability Rating: Great
Tomba! is quite generous in handing out extra lives, though you’ll find you may not need them depending on how versed you are in the genre. Since you can save periodically throughout the game, the most losing all of your lives will do is force you to load your last save. If you find yourself having trouble in a particular spot though, you can blow through your extra life reserve learning the segment and then load your prior save and do it again flawlessly should you choose to do so. The danger I found was more from figuring out where to go and how to get yourself there than the enemies you face. Especially since the solutions to each of the events are rather vague unless you spend a lot of time questioning NPC’s.
In fact, the enemy pigs that you encounter aren’t all that smart and will usually sit around and wait to get bitten and tossed around. On occasion, a few will burst onto the scene with pitchforks in hand to take you by surprise, but their patterns are predictable and your extendable life bar will more than make up for any mistakes you make in dealing with them. Even the later enemies aren’t all that much of a threat, bosses included. In order to dispatch of the bosses (the seven evil pigs), you must find a pig bag that corresponds with them and find their hidden lair. Once confronted, you have to leap on to and fling them into the open bag while avoiding whatever they throw at you. I beat the “final boss”Â without so much as one hit of damage.
Balance Rating: Good
While there were a number of platformers that released during the PSX era, I can’t think of any that had much in common with Tomba! In fact, the closest thing I can equate the experience to is Zelda II on the NES and even then, that’s quite a stretch. It has an open world with lots to find and explore like Super Mario 64, but requires you to complete missions and find items that will help open paths to places you’d already been similar to the Metroid titles. It’s easy to see why this game has the following that it does.
Originality Rating: Great
What makes Tomba! effective as a game is it preys on the OCD nature of gamers and their compulsion to find and complete everything. It gives you a list of 130 events to be found and completed and uses promises of further rewards to perform the tasks, even if you don’t “have to.”Â And since the events are found everywhere and unlocked just by investigating random objects, it’s hard to put down until you do “one more event.”Â Again, for a game released in 1998, this is very forward thinking design and it holds up well, even today. If you like platformers at all, it’s a tough one to give up.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
Despite the cult following that the game has established, it did not sell all that well following release. Although it did spawn a sequel, it didn’t do well enough to make the Greatest Hits line of games and as a result, the after market value for the original PlayStation version is in the realm of the absurd. The developer Whoopee Camp even went defunct following the release of the second game. As such, it’s hard to say how sales will do amongst people who have never tried the game. I suspect those curious about it or even those who own or have owned the original game will definitely rush to it in support, as it’s the only way Tomba! 2 will see a similar PSN release. That said, MonkeyPaw Games has been pushing hard to raise awareness in this game and with the right audience, I think it will do well.
Appeal Rating: Good
At a $9.99 price point, Tomba! is just a hair more expensive than some of the other PSOne Classics that have released on the PSN. On the other hand, it’s still an absolute steal at that price, especially with the amount of gameplay you’re getting with the package. It’ll be interesting to see if the numbers it generates will be enough to justify bringing over its sequel as now having experienced this one, I would love to delve into the second.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Final Score: Very Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
The cult classic Tomba! has returned and despite being a game that is a decade and a half old, it holds up remarkably well. While the graphics aren’t particularly mind blowing in this day and age, the low resolution anime cutscenes are well animated and are short enough that they provide a welcome treat without distracting from the game. Tomba himself controls well, minus a few quirks, and his ability to leap onto and bite numerous foes is a satisfying endeavor. There’s a ton more to do than the average platformer game with over a hundred missions to complete with a fair number of them being optional to completion. At a $9.99 price point, it’s also the ideal version to own unless you are a collector, as the physical version of this game has an outrageous after market value online. Whether you’re a newcomer or have played the original to death, it’s hard to go wrong with Tomba!