Friday, July 27, 2012

Tomba! (PS1) Retro Review

Tomba! is another game that I hadn't played when it originally came out, so you need not worry about potential nostalgia clouding my judgment. Instead, feel free to consider a myriad of other things that cloud my judgment! In Europe, the game is known as Tombi!, as is the main character's moniker. For the purpose of this review I will be simply calling him by his North American name.

That'll do, pigs. That'll do.

Oh, Tomba. You are yet another mascot of the nineties that was cast to the wayside, forever forgotten by most of the world. Sure, now Sony has the big guns like Uncharted's Nathan Drake, God of War's Kratos, Ratchet & Clank's eponymous duo, and whatever passes for a front man for the Killzone series, but they are definitely missing someone of notable caliber in the pink hair department. Tomba! was and still is a very original PlayStation One-era 2D platformer with loads of charm. Its recent release on the PlayStation Store has revitalized some interest in the title. Is the $9.99 USD price tag good enough to pig out on this game?

Tomba! follows a simple story, and for a platformer, that's all you'd really want anyway. One day Tomba is resting in a meadow when suddenly a group of Evil Pigs steals his prized possession, his golden bracelet, given to him by his grandpa. Now, the Pigs are doing a mess of other things, other than giving Tomba trouble. An Evil Pig has been dispatched to each main area of Tomba's playing grounds, and they are causing quite the stir. From turning the citizens of Baccus Village into rodents to create fierce winds on Phoenix Mountain, these Pigs have got to be stopped. Of course, Tomba just wants his golden bracelet. Saving the peace-loving people and habitats of the game by nabbing each and every Evil Pig to stop their tyranny over a given area of the land is just a bonus. After all, it is pretty clear from the darling opening movie that Tomba does not have all his proverbial pigs in a blanket. (I'm calling him a bit stupid and naive, for those who don't follow.) Speaking of the movies in the game, there are plenty of them sprinkled throughout Tomba's adventure. They have a cute aesthetic to them that yells distinctly "Saturday morning kids' anime." Oh, no worries - that's an adorable thing.

No shirt. No shoes. No problem.
I said that Tomba! was and still is a very original game. I stand by that statement. What other kind of 2D platformer allows you to leap onto the backs of enemies, grab hold of them, jump, and then send them hurdling across the screen into walls? Tomba also can, a certain spots of levels, move into the background and foreground (change planes) to open up even more platforming possibilities. Tomba's a jungle boy, and he loves to summon his inner Tarzan, hopping across vines, swinging 360 degrees off poles, and climbing up walls. That last feat can actually be a hindrance as there is sometimes when you just want Tomba to get out of the way or fall quickly to the ground, and he just keeps clutching to a wall. There's also a bit of a learning curve with controlling Tomba. His jump moves him at an unconventional arc, which may slip up some players. I know it did me at first. Speaking of jumps, there are some leaps of faith to be had, very annoying in some vexing areas. (Lava Caves, anyone?)

Tomba can change planes, climbing up
the house (door-side) and standing on the roof.
It is not just the gameplay mechanics that differ from typical 2D platformers either. No, you advance through Tomba! by completing various quests (the game calls them Events). It feels like an RPG in this regard as well as some others that I'll discuss later on. Feels, mind you. You perform tasks for total strangers or to reach certain places to earn Adventure Points (the experience points of the game) and move the game forward. Most often you cannot proceed without clearing some story-related Events. Sometimes the title of the Event is a dead giveaway of what Tomba needs to do. Other times you are left guessing and experimenting. Then, there are the Events that you simply cannot for the life of your figure out what the game wants you to do. The latter only comes up once in a while, and they are seldom mandatory to proceed in the game. On many occasions you will have multiple active Events to satisfy the conditions of. It can be overwhelming at times.

So thick you can cut it with a knife.
There are 130 Events in total. A fair number of them are completely optional. In general, the Events themselves can be as straightforward as reaching the summit of a mountain and catching a ride on a Phoenix, retrieving the pants of a monkey, or learning how to swim, or they can be as complex as combining powders to make a mysterious mushroom, helping a Baccus Village citizen stop crying, and playing hide-and-go-seek with an NPC.

Many Events will have Tomba collecting an item to complete the quest's request. Aside from Event-specific items, Tomba can stow away in his inventory health-restoring Lunch Boxes; destination-transporting Clarity Wings (though there is a way to be able to move to any area that makes this item unnecessary); new weapons and equipment such as boomerang, grapples, parasols, and pairs of pants; and mushrooms that can turn Tomba into a happy, neutral, or crying mess. An item that our jungle boy can nab that aren't in his inventory include the invaluable Vitality Max +1, which bestows one extra slot of health for our hero.

They say laughter is the best medicine.
Well, at least it kills time.
Along with the quest-like Events and inventory, Tomba! has another aspect of it that makes it similar to RPGs. Depending on the enemy type that Tomba defeats, he gains Adventure Points (AP) in one of three meters that can fill up up to ten times. Some areas of the game are inaccessible until Tomba has acquired the necessary amount of AP. Three of the greatest treasures in the game, gems bestowing Tomba with a different power, are only able to be picked up if the pink-haired hero has the required AP gauge filled to its maximum corresponding to the gauge's and gem's color.

The areas of Tomba! are all interconnected. As you can possibly imagine with all of the Events, there is a lot of backtracking involved. Apart from the 2D landscape levels, Tomba visits various towns where the game shifts to an overhead point of view, reminiscent of any typical RPG, where he can chat with the locals, get assigned new Events, and unwind. Saving is performed by walking up to the numerous signposts in the game and examining them.

 Tomba feels a bit under-dressed 
compared to the locales.
Eventually you will come in contact with a portal door leading to an encounter with one of the Evil Pigs. Of course, you need to have collected the Evil Pig Bag of the area first before the door is operational. Regardless, each battle possesses the same objective, jump on the Evil Pig and chuck him into the sometimes rotating, sometimes moving Evil Pig Bag to seal that oinker away for good, destroying the mystical magic spell that he placed on the area he raised heck in. This can be easier said than done as Tomba can only throw enemies left and right, and once he jumps once, he automatically tosses a foe. Add in some magic by each Evil Pig such as tornadoes, boulders, and meteors, and the challenge becomes greater.

Tomba! is a good length for a 2D platformer. It took me about 10-12 hours to complete most of the Events and see the ending. I didn't get to complete several of the Events because the game glitched three of my items (three Crystal Balls) and removed them from my possession. (This seems to have happened with other players, so I am not alone, thankfully.) That said, there really is no exceptional special bonus for clearing all the quests except that you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Each Evil Pig has caused 
some trouble for a specific area.
Tomba! was criticized for its overall look even back when it released. Just imagine the complaints we would get in this climate where seemingly every thing with color is branded as "kiddy." If you still haven't evolved from thinking that you're above games because they don't feature enough violence or blood, Tomba! should be a pass for you. Regardless, I digress. How can I even mention blood with regards to such a rosy-in-exterior game? Tomba himself is rendered similar to the cast and characters of Nintendo/Rare's Donkey Kong Country trilogy, as are the enemies, NPCs, and some environmental objects. Then there's the 3D elements like the platforms Tomba hops and runs on, the walls he climbs, and some background items. It is all pretty pleasing to look at. The sound doesn't fare so hot. Some sound effects grate on the ears, and the soundtrack, while some songs are fine in-game, does not have much resonance or memorability. I'm sure, however, I could find one track that I liked.

Ultimately, Tomba's first adventure is a successful one. It really is a platformer in RPG's clothing. Or maybe it's the opposite..? Nonetheless, Tomba! has its fair share of problems such as copious amounts of backtracking, imperfect hit detection, mediocre music, but for every problem it has, Tomba! is blessed with a positive. The game is charming, there are plenty of Events to accomplish, the RPG elements are refreshing for a 2D platformer, the visuals are colorful, and it has nice replay value. It is a shame the original developer of the game went out of business shortly after this game's sequel. I would have loved to see a trilogy out of Tomba! Perhaps someday... or perhaps that poor, wild jungle child could wind up in a certain Sony fighting game... A man can dream.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

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