While this cute cover hides a sinister core, it's above all a great puzzle game.
Some games can easily fool you into thinking they’re something else. Take Terraria for example, one might think it’s just a stylish platformer about going from point A to point B when it’s so much more than that. Toki Tori might be a cutesy, simplistic feat at first glance, but in fact it’s a pretty brutal puzzle experience.
The levels are basic and the movements aren’t that fancy either. Most monsters just go right and left endlessly until something happens that chances their direction. You have to take them in consideration as much as any other aspect of the stage. Something stands there just for the sake of being there? Chances are it’s got some important role in which you haven’t gotten the grasp of yet.
The movements are precise but they’re profoundly limited. You occupy one square unit of existence, per say, and when you move any direction you notice you moved half the distance away from this initial territory, by repressing the same direction you had pressed before you’ll be in the adjacent block. This helps the developer create very specific puzzles that need to be absolute the only way to pass the level. It’s easy to replicate because you don’t have much room for imprecision.
To succeed in this game you just have to go around a levels and collect all the eggs for Toki Tori. After reaching the last one of them you get warped and finish the level. If it sounds simple it’s because it really is. The problem is, getting these eggs might become impossible in just simply by getting one of the eggs too early for example. A chain of events happen and you won’t notice the level has become impossible until you reach the end.
If you had to restart each time you screw up in something it could become tedious, so they implemented a system of backtracking in time. It may sound cheap at first but when later levels are reached you finally understand why this is such a big deal. Made a move you regret? just hit backspace to rewind the game and redo whatever you did wrong. Want to rewind until the movement you spawn right in the beginning? No problem. You just can’t redo time that was overwritten, whatever you did after agreeing on time-travelling back will be lost. It shouldn’t be a problem because if you’re back-tracking it basically means something went terribly wrong and you need to redo, no questions asked.
To help the player out during the quest you have stuff like platforms, blocks or freezing guns at disposal. Depending on the world you’re in some special ability might be available, like in the water levels which you can become a bubble and float around, while in the sewer you might have a slimy-sucking weapon to get rid of some nasty snails that roam these waste-filled depths.
At first whatever ability that is presented to the player might be used at will, but right next to this demo level you will instantly face what this game does best. It severely limits the usage of whatever skill you have. I’m not talking a magazine of bullets to dispose of 3 enemies; I’m talking three bullets expecting three headshots. Some levels are ingeniously crafted to trick you into making the hasty decision, the easy move. Always doubt what’s too clear, it probably isn’t, this game has taught me that.
You’re basically trying to find all the places you absolutely need to spend resources in to proceed, if you reached a dead end and there’s still 2 eggs to go, you might need to rethink your last couple of moves, you might have to rethink a move you made in the beginning, you might need to completely rethink your route. It makes some later stages absolutely hell compared to the easy “just walk and beat the level” of the first few stages.
Toki Tori is also a lovable character, always doing funny stuff in-game when you suddenly feel the need to stop and start using your brain to crack that nut, weaving at you, taking off his underwater goggles while still underwater to clean them up and putting them back on like nothing happened. Toki Tori is awesome and it invokes the attention of kids. Though Toki Tori might please easily, the very nature of this game is absolutely brutal. Breeze through the first world and face the real danger of later stages so you get a real impression of how hard this seemingly lighthearted adventure can become.
Yes, it’s a hard game, everyone should have gotten that by now, but is it the kind of challenge we can get something out of? Absolutely. There’s a certain joy in finishing a harder level by realizing what you were doing wrong all along. There’s also a certain dose of frustration when you give in and notice you wouldn’t have noticed that even if you played for 300 years straight. Some challenges just have an overwhelming number of possibilities.
Hidden inside this cute cover, easy bulky controls and incredibly charismatic main character lies a morbid core indeed, and is it hard! Toki Tori is a puzzle game made possible with 2-dimensional platforming, but this is not platforming, at least not in general terms. When you think about it, it’s made of two very distinct characteristics that could easily become a problem for the uninitiated. It’s a cute game with a harsh gameplay. Generally you have stuff like cute/fun or core/challenging. The only difference here is that the cover hides what you’re actually getting completely, be aware.