Monday, August 5, 2013

Tomba! (PS1) Review

Why I tried the game: This is one of my top 5 favorite games, easily. I'll try not to rant on and on about the nostalgia, but it needs to be mentioned. Tomba! for the PS1 is easily one of the most influential games of my childhood. I had it on a demo disc back when I had just picked out my PS1. It was the first console I was old enough to learn about and request on my own. I remember playing the demo more times than I can count. I remember trying anything I could to extend the play time of the demo. To this day, I can 100% the 30-some quests from the demo almost blindfolded. I remember renting this from Blockbuster and never getting to finish it. For years I couldn't forget about this game. It commanded a really high price on ebay and I would never bring myself to pay for it. I played it on emulators and never managed to finish. I found a listing on ebay for the game and manual for half of its usual asking price, and I bought it that second. Adding this to my collection was a huge deal. Easily my most desired title, for so many reasons.

Likes: Keeping in mind I have the old rose-colored-glasses on, I must say that I still really really enjoy this game. Tomba! (Tombi! in PAL regions) was so far ahead of its time, that in fact it may still be ahead of its time. A game from the future presented and limited by the restrictions of the past. 

There are more quests and side quests in Tomba! than I run across in some of todays hyped RPG titles (the mediocre game Rage comes to mind). There is more to do, see and find in Tomba! than in many other well remembered titles. Most of the time, the quests are cryptic. They are delivered as "events" and can be triggered by a number of actions in the game (not just interacting with NPCs). For example, very early during the game you come across a frog. The frog hops out of the purple bushes, and you can jump on him like an enemy. Finishing the attack unlocks the event "Take Me Home", and shows you an arbitrary number on the screen which represents some mystery points system you never quite figure out. From there, the frog rides on your back until you bring him home, or until you get hit by an enemy. But where is the frogs home? The only real way to figure out what to do is to explore. While this may sound tedious (and sometimes it is) many of the quests are optional and have no bearing on the story anyway. However, they are approached in such a way that they feel very natural, and you often complete them on accident. The flow of the game is very fluid, and there is almost always multiple things to do on every map.

The humor of the game is also very appealing. Tombas inventory is in his stomach - he doesn't have a backpack after all! Many of the NPCs comment on this when he has to give them an item and it comes from his stomach, resulting in some pretty funny dialog. The quests are often funny, and the game is very well written. Its not a heart wrenching RPG, but provides a decent enough story to keep you entertained and interested. The hundreds of items and environmental interactions never grow stale, and rarely become repetitive. Most everything in the game is unique to itself. 

There is the RPG element I've discussed so far, but its not really a "level up" style game. Its an RPG in the sense that you collect items and use them to complete events or equip your character, but the gameplay is mostly platforming based. There are a lot of jump sequences (some extremely frustrating), and you defeat enemies much the way you would in a Mario styled game. Tomba! feels like an RPG crossed with a platformer, but with the charm of a well thought out point and click adventure. This is the first game I ever played that I felt really blurred the lines of genre descriptions and the boundaries of gameplay.

 Dislikes: All of the games I have reviewed thus far have been current generation games. It is not only difficult, but also unfair to compare even an excellent game of yesteryear to a blockbuster of 2013. I'm not sure what other kind of rating system could be employed to account for this, but keep in mind that I'm reviewing a game that is rapidly going on 20 years old.

The difficulty level needs to be addressed. I know I complained about TLOU being difficult, but difficult then and difficult now. Are two completely different things. Difficult now is 15 minutes of frustration and having to replay an area a few times. Difficult then was the complete inability to continue and having to restart because you fucked up. Tomba! has a limited number of lives, and a lot of very difficult jumps. Its not on par with Mario lives either (which once you get the hang of, you can finish with like 50 extras). These lives are much more limited. Although there are ways to find more, its usually fairly annoying to do. Saving often is your best bet, and playing and replaying sections until you have them down is a somewhat common occurrence. Games like Tomba! should offer either a "save state" of sorts, or unlimited lives. Trying to juggle your skill level with difficult jumps and tough bosses is a bit much to ask. You have to be fairly dedicated to this game to finish it, but that is why finishing it feels so good. Its not quite a quarter-eating beat 'em up, but its definitely not a Spyro the Dragon simplicity either. 

I mentioned that I liked the cryptic manner of quest distribution, but it can sometimes be a little bit much. Finding which mouse to talk to to get the cheese and trying to remember which mouse to deliver it to in a village full of very similar looking mice is frustrating, especially when you've gone and done 20 other things in between. It rarely takes away from the fun of the game, but the frustrating events are frustrating enough to mention.

Finally, the mechanics of the game are a bit off. They don't feel stiff of bad persay, but all too often a fall off of a ledge or a jump from A to B is unnecessarily hard. Pair this up with fast paced boss fights, and you're in for some real cussing. Thankfully PS1 controllers are'll probably break at least one if you're prone to ragequitting.

Conclusion:If you're a retro gamer, and you love Sony, you owe it to yourself to play through Tomba!. If you're one of those people who can handle the frustration of Contra for the feeling of winning, you need to play this game. Fortunately for you, Tomba! is available on PSN for less than $10. Unless you're a collector, hunting down an original copy isn't going to be fun, but the PSOne classics on PSN have never disappointed me. I haven't played Tomba! like that, but I'm sure its great. Its unfortunate that this game is only really remembered by people who had the same demo disc as me, and even sadder the studio closed and I doubt there will ever be another Tomba! game (after the sequel that is). This game is a gem, and there is a reason it costs so much online...and not just because its uncommon to find. Its because this game is (for once) worth the asking price. Do yourself a favor and play this game.

8 Pig Bags out of 10.




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