IGR is very pleased to welcome guest reviewer Eric Weiss this week who also contributes to Dork Shelf based in Toronto. Please take a moment and share your thoughts about this review in the comments below! Welcome Eric [Ed]
Toki Tori 2+ is a puzzle adventure game in which you explore a lush forest island inhabited by strange creatures. Whistle and stomp to influence their behavior, and solve the puzzles. But what’s up with that black goo? It’s threatening your home world!
Toki Tori 2+ – What We Think
Toki Tori 2+ from the makers of Rush, EDGE and Swords & Soldiers, is a cutesy puzzle-platformer in which you play as a flightless canary stuffing orange frogs into vacuum cleaners. It’s also an open-world Metroidvania gone horribly wrong. The punishing trial-and-error gameplay is at odds with cheerful artwork stuck somewhere between Angry Birds and Dora the Explorer, and the resulting video game is a confused, unintuitive mess.
The trouble is that the game violates one of the fundamental principles of design: The broad interactive components – movement, inputs, interface, etc. – should be as smooth and seamless as possible; if navigating the game world becomes a chore, nobody is going to want to spend much time there.
Failure to Launch
Toki Tori 2+ falls on the wrong side of that divide, hamstringing the player with a stunted control scheme that doesn’t include the word ‘jump.’ Walking across the screen is downright painful, the aforementioned canary a plodding invalid with two broken wings that keels over dead whenever it gets startled, which is not an endearing quality in a genre that prioritizes freedom of motion.
In a competent Metroidvania – like Drinkbox’s Guacamelee – the abilities you acquire later in the game make it easier to overcome obstacles that you passed earlier in the game. Whether it’s with a rocket or a double jump, going backwards should always be easier than going forwards to encourage the player to explore as much as possible.
Toki Tori 2+ is vaguely aware of that necessity, incorporating an extensive warp system that grants access to most corners of the map. Sadly, the intention is undercut due to the game’s complete lack of character progression.
You have two abilities – whistle and stomp – that you deploy like a drill sergeant to whip other animals into line. Frogs spit floating bubbles, crabs are walking platforms, and fairies provide light in dark places.
It’s an adequate foundation for a diverse array of puzzles, but it’s a maddeningly imprecise approach to platforming. While that wouldn’t inherently be a problem in a more linear game (think Limbo), it’s frustrating in a title that expects backtracking. If you’re not near a warp point and you need to revisit an area, there are no shortcuts. You have to do everything exactly the same way you did it the first time.
The tedium is compounded in later levels crammed with essential components that disappear and make the stage impassable. One misstep – and missteps will happen when you don’t have direct control over anything in your environment – could require you to repeat five to ten minutes of gameplay when a frog wanders off a cliff.
Waiting To Exhale
The reload times are blissfully brief, but they shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. Every reiteration feels like it’s pulling you further away from any action, each reset a trial that expels the player for having the audacity to attempt the game.
It’s a shame, because the puzzles themselves are reasonably clever. The challenges scale logically and incorporate everything in the game’s extensive toolbox.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to craft compelling experiences with the fauna at hand. As with the larger birds that forcibly drag you away from whatever it was you were doing, things happen to you rather than vice versa. The game is spent sitting around waiting for other creatures to assemble themselves into a temporary path, and only then do you get to progress with the permission of the AI.
Toki Tori 2+ is consequently a game without meaningful player agency, a terminal flaw in a piece of interactive fiction. The interface is so nightmarish that it actively discourages extended engagement with the material, preventing the player from appreciating the elements of the game that work.
It ultimately feels like what you’d get if you asked Gordon Ramsay to make a pizza with ingredients pulled from the dumpster. It might be the best pizza you could ask for given the circumstances, but you’re still eating a pretty lousy piece of pie.