Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Tomba!

The next game in my #52GameChallenge is one that I wanted to play years ago, but unfortunately fell through the cracks until now. It wasn’t really my fault, though. The tale is boring so I’ll spare the details – I bought a lot of retro games from a guy on CraigsList one day and he said Tomba! was included. I was getting the games for an amazing price and Tomba! is a semi-rare and semi-valuable game, so I was excited. Sadly, the excitement was dashed when the guy said he couldn’t find the disc and only had the case. I kept the empty case as a reminder of what I almost had.

Fast forward a few years and I found a copy of Tomba! on CL again – not at as good as a price as presumed before, but decent nonetheless. I wasted almost no time in booting the game up to see if it lived up to the hype I’d heard from fanboys over the years (and I'm sure my opinion is going to upset some Tomba! faithful).

I’ll give a little background on the story, which makes no sense but it’s noteworthy as it adds that ever so important quirkiness seen in many earlier games that jumped right into gameplay, something  that so many modern games forsake for establishing a plot (there are pros and cons to each, but that’s for another day). Here’s the tale; evil pigs have taken control of the land and are making your world different that before and filled with more perils. Their magic is powered by gold and other valuables, and one day they steal Tomba’s gold bracelet, pissing him off and giving us motivation for defeating the evil pigs (you know, because them being evil and taking over the world isn’t enough).

WARNING: Clay Tomba and/or pigs may not appear in-game.

Good, now that you know why Tomba is your protagonist, on to the gameplay. I was immediately caught off balance by the controls. Tomba! is a platformer but because it was on the PS1 and technically in 3D, the developers made the worlds you explored layered. This means that Tomba can jump from the foreground to the background(s) in areas that have them. This adds an interesting dynamic to exploration, because sometimes items are unattainable until to you jump to another layer. It was very different from anything I’d seen previously in a game, and while confusing at first, I eventually became a master at finding where and when to jump back and forth.

As a platformer, Tomba! is decent but frustrating. Sometimes I felt the platforming spiked in difficulty at odd times without warning. One level you’d be jumping from large platforms, and the next you’d be jumping from small platforms and ropes over a huge chasm of death. I know I was a bit out of practice when it came to platformers of advanced difficulty, so part of it was me. However, it made me rage a couple of times when I went from having 12 lives to 2 just to get through one small portion of a level (especially knowing I had to go back later).

Another oddity of the game is defeating enemies. Most you can simply jump on to defeat…with an added twist. Tomba “paralyzes” enemies by biting them, and then can throw them in a number of directions. Sometimes this comes in handy because it allows you to defeat enemies by using a paralyzed one as a weapon. It was truly a unique element of the game and it’s one you have to experience or see to understand how it’s best utilized. Also, the hit-boxes for some enemies were odd and led to Tomba receiving damage when I thought I’d jumped on them correctly, but with an odd way of killing enemies there were bound to be snags.

Hey, you unlocked Lava Caves...prepare to die!

The biggest frustration with the game is the exploration. The game world isn’t that large, but the way missions/events (which pop up randomly when you talk to someone or do certain tasks) are structured require you to backtrack a significant amount of time, even all the way back to the starting point of the game. It wouldn’t be a burden except that the game gives little to no clues or hints regarding your next step, and when you do get a clue it’s usually cryptic and/or given at a point way before you unlock the event. So you either have to use a pen and paper to write everything down, or have a photographic memory. Obviously the game wanted to encourage exploration and challenge the gamer to think about the events in the game rather than hold your hand throughout, so I can appreciate it from that perspective, even if I was annoyed at times.

Tomba! also incorporated some role-playing elements which, while diluted, still added good variety to what would normally be “just a platformer”. Throughout the game, Tomba can gain more health-slots by completing certain events, and Tomba can level up by defeating enemies. While there were obvious benefits to increased health, I was never able to figure out how defeating more enemies and “leveling up” made Tomba more powerful or helped me beat the game easier. Perhaps an event would unlock if I hit the max level 10, but I never got that far. Plenty of room for clarification and improvement in the RPG elements, but as a platformer it’s forgiven.

Overall, I will say that Tomba! was a bit of a disappointment. The quirkiness and little bonus 3D and RPG elements wore thin once the frustrating platforming reared its head. On top of all that, the method of defeating enemies became dry over the 7+ hour adventure, and even the boss battles (not previously discussed) all felt the same and got boring by the 3rd one. I can understand how this game may have seemed exciting and innovative when it was released, and I don’t want to stomp on anyone’s nostalgia, but in 2015 I can’t bring myself to say that I would play this again or recommend it to a friend. At least I can say I’ve played it now, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 6/52

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