The Last Tinker: City of Colors
Genre: 3rd Person Platform
Developer: Mimimi Productions
Publishers: Unity Games
Release Date: 5/12/2014
There was once a time when 3D platformers were available on every home console and fought for supremacy and shelf space. Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Banjo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot and more fought to be the best in a genre that Mario had previously claimed supremacy of with Mario 64. For a moment Sony had some of the best platform games in a market crowded with mascots and copycats. Now, in 2014, Jak has disappeared, Ratchet and Clank are still killing it though their sales aren’t, and most of the rest have been relegated to classic releases on arcade marketplaces. Oddly 3D platformers were pushed aside by a resurgence of 2/2.5D games. That seems strange that in the last console generation Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 exist and excel in a genre that was otherwise mostly ignored.
Right as I was feeling nostalgic for games like that and along came The Last Tinker: City of Colors, a 3D platform game that looked to capture the heart and spirit of some of my favorite titles of the 6th generation of console games. It pulls together some of the things I loved about older platformer games while still adding some unique twists of its own, though one of my biggest complaints is also one of my favorite things about the game; it feels a lot like many 3D platformers I’ve already played.
First let’s go through what the game is. The Last Tinker starts off with some minor narration to set the world up and puts us in the shoes of the main character and his floating pet. The narrative explains that, within this world of color, things used to be pretty good, and then slowly divisiveness started to spread across the land turning color against color. While worse in the cities it began to spread out to the surrounding country, and it appeared as though there may soon be no hope for the creatures of the color town to get along.
The game then begins with the main character, who looks decidedly different from all of the other creatures and seems simian in nature, and his flying pet pig, who looks like a refuge from Viva Pinata. After a minor introductory sequence that also serves a dual purpose as a tutorial the story then introduces the antagonist in a clever sequence of events. The antagonist starts to spread The Bleakness, a white gunk that drains all color from the land and people. Even though the story is somewhat predictable (main character is the chosen one and so on), it’s told in some interesting and amusing ways that keep the game entertaining.
The Last Tinker is certainly not a game that people are ever going to accuse of being too brown and gray. The game is bursting with color and has a unique art style to it that shows off a world that appears to be made out of watercolor paint and paper, sometimes literally so with cardboard cut-outs with bushes painted onto them and other similar objects. There’s a strong art design behind the game that extends far beyond just the color palette. The world is full of little details that just add to the experience, like how the paranoid green area is filled with security cameras or the defeatist way the blue creatures sulk. In many ways it reminds me of one of my favorite 3D platformers, Psychonauts, in just how strong the art design compliments and accentuates the various areas, even though much of the art has a slight Jak and Daxter (the very first one) feel to it.
Even stronger is the audio side. The characters all speak in the gibberish sounds that seems to be almost a genre cliché at this point, but the background music is fantastic. I honestly believe if more video game reviewers played this game that it would easily win soundtrack of the year from all corners of the internet. While the art design compliments and accentuates the different levels it’s the music that really adds a sense of personality to the entire game. From the stealth section with the bass that gets louder as you are about to be discovered, to the orchestra section, to the boss battles, to everything, really, there is not a weak section in this game when it comes to the background music. Hell, I barely notice the background music in games unless it’s either distracting or really good, and in this case, there were times I thought a piece of music was so good I’d stop playing just to listen to it, and that is a rare thing for me.
The presentation is so damn good you’d have a hard time telling that this is a game from a smaller studio. There are numerous settings that can be adjusted, thankfully, as my laptop isn’t the most powerful, but with some slight adjustments I was able to play it running smoothly in 60fps.
The most unique aspect of the game would have to be how it controls. The game doesn’t really play like a standard platform game, as in there’s a dedicated jump button that by default is mapped to the Right Bumper on an Xbox Control Pad but it is not often used. The main method of getting around in the game has more in common with the recent Assassin’s Creed games. By that I mean you hold the right trigger down when moving and the jumping between platforms is automatic. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like that, but the way the developers have adapted this kind of movement to a platform game works really well. It’s still timing based, so you can’t just blow through whole sections by just holding the trigger down and moving in one direction. Instead of jumping between one platform and another, typically you’re moving across several platforms, which may sink or only be available for a short period of time, or have obstacles to get around. There are also rail grinding sections that are similar to ones found in the Ratchet and Clank games, where you have to make specific jumps and cross over to other rails.
In addition to that, the game also has a weird mushroom character with learning disabilities that you can summon for specific level related puzzles. Sometimes this means turning him into a bomb or riding him, though the game is consistently adding new obstacles as puzzles and granting new abilities to figure a way around those obstacles.
The game also contains combat sections that break up levels. The combat is fairly simple for the most part; there’s a combo chain for hitting an attack button repeatedly and, like the most recent Batman games, characters will have an exclamation point above their heads when they are about to attack, and it’s very simple to switch focus to interrupt those attacks. Like with the obstacle puzzle solving, additional abilities are granted or unlocked by using combat vending machines, which include area of attack abilities and also ways to manage crowds of enemies. There’s a decent variety of increasingly difficult enemies as you progress.
One of the best things the game does is take these elements and mix them up in many different ways, so that it never really gets stale. That means there might be a race, then a combat section, then a stealth section, then a puzzle section, then a rail grinding section, and so on, including even more bizarre things like a musical mini-game or crime solving. Everything works well and provides a great sense of variety to a game that might otherwise get stale quickly.
The only complaint I’d have about the game is that the main character, at times, seems to almost not be connected to the geometry of the environment, and at times seems to almost float above it. This is more noticeable during the combat sections, where even if the character doesn’t really appear to connect, it counts as a hit. It’s not a big concern though, and it never causes an issue with the playability of the game. The only problem is, occasionally, trying to stand on rounded surfaces like pipes, are a giant pain in the ass since you might slide off.
I played through the game with the Xbox control pad. While this is optional, I highly recommend playing it with a gamepad, especially the Xbox one, since it seems almost designed for such. I say that because there are blue, red and green powers you get through the game, and these abilities are assigned on the Xbox controller to the X, B and A button respectively (which are the blue, red and green buttons on the controller). I thought that was great because, since I’m very familiar with that controller, I always knew what buttons to push just based off of color alone with no further thought to it. Controlling the game in this way felt great and very responsive.
The game has some additional content through collectable paintbrushes hidden throughout the levels. The menu for what these unlock as you collect them is nearly identical to the orb collectable screen in Jak 2, which isn’t a bad thing at all. If you are going to have collectables, it’s great that there are things you can unlock (like concept art, big/small head modes, etc) and a way to track this easily.
As much as I really enjoyed this game and thought that it had strong art, music and design to it, the fact that it feels almost like a melting pot of ideas explored in other games is a little disappointing to me. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with doing that, I’m a fan of the Darksiders series because it mixes a bunch of stuff from games I enjoy together; however, with how great the art direction and music are, I would’ve loved to see the developers expend some of that same creative energy coming up with singularly new ideas for their game instead of pulling together ideas from other successful games. Considering this game reminds me of some of my favorite games, like Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Psychonauts, Assassin’s Creed and others, it’s like biting into a casserole full of my favorite ingredients. I love the individual pieces and I love the way the studio has blended them together, even if I wish it had tried to be more ambitious than safe.
Short Attention Span Summary:
If you have similar tastes and nostalgia for older 3D platformer games like I do, then this game at its budget price is an easy recommendation. I thought it was a lot of fun and hope that it gets distributed to consoles sometime so that more people might be able to experience it. The Last Tinker features strong art direction, fantastic music and clever game design that may stick a little too closely to older platform games but is still fun to play.