Now where’s the wisdom in that?

The 1UP Retro Roundup has returned — now 100% more outsourced! But as it happens, I have passed the baton to none other than Mr. Reibeatall, the sinister tender of the New Game + column. Yes, now the true purpose of GameSpite has been revealed: It is a candidate farm wherein I may choose among potential Sith apprentices.

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Someone told me last week that the band Joy Division was named for some element of the Nazi military or something. I admit I wasn’t paying careful attention, because 10 years of cookie-cutter WWII shooters have transformed the word “Nazi” into a soporific cliché and I think I fell asleep partway through the conversation. Anyway, the band is the topic of this week’s movie. So there you go.
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So, the official game of the week selection is Ninja Gaiden II, but no way am I cluttering up my nice clean front page with Team Ninja’s awful, soulless, prerendered excuse for art. Have some Shiren instead. The real gem this week is actually Toki Tori for WiiWare. None of you played the game on Game Boy Color, so now is your chance to make up for your personal failure.

For grins, i thought I’d dig up and reprint my old Toki Tori review. I gave the game five frog heads out of five frog heads possible, back when I was naïve enough to think video games could be quantified in terms of decapitated amphibians. This was published in the “Mushroom Hunting” feature days, before Cheap Ass Gamer, when I was making a concerted effort to find great games for low prices and share my findings with the dozen or so people who cared.

Toki Tori
GameBoy Color | Two Tribes/Capcom | $22.45 | CompUSA

It’s pretty surprising to see a big publisher pick up a title by a rookie developer, especially one from some faraway place in Europe where they have a tendency to put diagonal lines through the letter O. While Capcom isn’t exactly the biggest name in handheld gaming — they’re letting the developers of a Mary Kate & Ashley game make a Resident Evil RPG, for crying out loud — they definitely stumbled onto something groovy when they picked up Toki Tori by fresh-faced kids Two Tribes.

Toki Tori (named for the pudgy little chicken who stars in the game and not, alas, because it’s a sequel to monkeyman platformer Toki) steps into the Wayback Machine to the more traditional era of puzzle gaming. Back in the old forgotten days, when puzzle solving didn’t involve colored blocks or crates but rather intricate and mentally-challenging rooms full of objects arranged just so, a la Lolo or Lemmings. In realistic terms, there’s not much sense behind a world in which obstacles are perfectly suited to the hero’s skills, but there’s also not much sense behind a fat baby chicken traveling through slime-infested caves rescuing eggs, either. It’s a video game; appearances are just a conceit to justify the mechanics, dig? Those mechanics include the use of bridge-building blocks, slime-sucking vacuums and monster-freezing bazookas. Toki Tori is one arse-kicking bird. Which is pretty surprising, considering his own arse looks like an oversized bag of lemon pudding. Apparently a prerequisite of this kind of game is that the main character has to possess the physique of a couch potato… not to mention jumping skills to make Simon Belmont look like Jumping Flash‘s Robbit.

And while visuals are a secondary consideration for a game like this (if you can see what the elements in a puzzle game are, you’re good to go), Toki Tori really stands out. If the graphics stretched the full width of a GameBoy Advance screen, there’d be no way to tell the game’s not merely a simple GBA title. Everything’s tile-based, but detailed and subtly shaded, and sprites are smoothly animated. Walk behind a waterfall and you’ll see the creators showing off; programmers had a hard enough time getting transparencies to work on the Saturn, and here they are in clear view in a Game Boy game. For those who find the mind-bogglingly tough gameplay to be sissy stuff, completing each of the five game worlds opens a set of hard stages for that world. And this is one of those times where “hard” isn’t just cocky boastfulness — even the first Hard stage in the game had me stumped. Of course, that could just mean I’m a dimwit, but humor me and pretend it means that the developers outdid themselves. Thanks.

There’s nothing really new or even exciting here, just solid, challenging gameplay with beautiful visuals, nice music and, uh, a very rotund hero. Normally I try to inject a little venom into my reviews, but to see such a solid and under-promoted game come from a completely new face in the industry kindles the little spark of charity in my shriveled heart into a brief flame. Toki Tori is simply the best and most addictive “true” puzzle game I’ve played in years; it’s frustrating and difficult but perfectly fair and has that certain je ne sais quoi (note: this is French for something or another) that insinuates itself into your brain and forces you to tackle puzzles even when you’re not playing. And the hero looks like a marshmallow Peep given flesh. Gold stars and A+ all around.

16 thoughts on “Now where’s the wisdom in that?

  1. I actually DID play Toki Tori back in the day, at least in part on the strength of your review. So cheers to that.

  2. Wait, don’t Sith Empires end up with everyone killing each other in internal power struggles until only two remain?

    I like those odds!

  3. Congrats Andy, and thanks for bringing back Retro Roundup! It’s been too long! And nice Toki Tori review!

    And now I understand why this site exists. >_>.

  4. It’s funny that you thought your heart was already shriveled in 2001. We hadn’t seen anything yet.

  5. It is nice to see that the editorial board steps in when necessary to make corrections to egregious judgements in the write-ups. Knocking the new Warlords may very well be acceptable, but knocking the original or the Atari version? Sickening.

  6. The WW II thing was probably about the successor band’s name, New Order. Which, on a note, I find much more enjoyable than Joy Division. Thanks should be attributed to the vocalist, I think.

  7. RE: Warlords

    Maybe it’s because I never played the game until like last year, but I just didn’t have any fun with it. I stand by my diss!

  8. Legend has it “Joy Division” was named for the areas of the Nazi death camps where women were kept for the soldiers to rape. KIND OF BLEAK, EH?

    Also: Grid, from the Toca: Race Driver and Dirt guys at Codemasters, comes out this week. An arcadey racer with really good graphics, it looks a lot more fun than Ninja Gaiden II to me.

  9. I’m not sure who did distro in Europe. It could well have been a U.S.-only release, given how late it appeared in the GBC life cycle.

  10. I also played Toki Toki on GBC and loved it, but hey–one less reason to have a huge clunky GBC cart hanging out my SP!

  11. I wish I could download the GBC version of Toki Tori, because the visuals in the WiiWare version are kind of ewwwwwwwwwww.

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