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May 30 2014

Review of The Last Tinker: City of Colours

header_292x1363 Stars

The Last Tinker: City of Colours is a kid’s game and while that’s not a bad thing, unfortunately a kid’s game is all it ends up being. It clearly wants to be like the timeless classic kiddie games of old like Banjo-Kazooie and Spyro but it just doesn’t offer up enough in terms of gameplay or story to really capture audiences of all ages. While even a really fantastic kid’s game definitely needs to be somewhat mechanically straightforward for all those developing minds out there, a certain underlying complexity needs to exist to have those same minds still enjoying the game 10-20 years later, and the stories that those games present need to have a very specific kind universal simplicity in order to keep everyone’s attention, nothing that will confuse the wee ones or speak down to the adults. The Last Tinker sadly does not succeed on either of those fronts, it’s still a decent game and will certainly entertain its primary audience of the 5-12 set but it just doesn’t hold that all-embracing appeal that the game was aiming for.

Before we get into the story and gameplay and talk about why they fell flat, let’s discuss the presentation because it’s the most enjoyable part of the whole experience and the bit that does actually manage to strike that all ages chord the game was trying for. Visually it has this incredibly unique style where everything looks like it was made out of arts and crafts materials; corrugated edges of painted cardboard highlight trees misshapen by the paint and glue that has been used to give them texture, with the whole scene presided over by a smiling and over large sun. It feels like the kind of world that a child would lovingly create and every aspect of it has this almost hand-made feel to it, even the character’s speech shows up as cardboard text bubbles that actually exist in the environment. They even put to use some great camera effects to really help set the mood in a few places, especially near the end when you get involved in a Sherlock Holmes style mystery and a nice dark smoky filter is added which gives things a great foreboding feel. The music is also wonderfully done,  it’s a great mix of slow peaceful acoustic guitar and faster high-spirited pieces that convey a great sense of inquisitive adventure. There is one part of the presentation I’m not a fan of though and that’s the random noises characters make in place of actual voice acting. There’s not enough overall samples and the repetition got rather annoying over time, that especially goes for the protagonist’s little floating goat friend Tap who speaks in nothing but cutsey coos and meeps.

Each colour represents an emotion; Red is anger, Green is fear, and Blue is sorrow.

Each colour represents an emotion; Red is anger, Green is fear, and Blue is sorrow.

Moving onto the gameplay, The Last Tinker features an interesting mix of Assassin’s Creed style platforming and Batman: Arkham Asylum style combat but reduces them down into a dull paste, a competent paste mind you that does what it needs to, but dull nonetheless. Starting with the platforming, it works similar to AC in that it’s all about contextual agility. Rather than having a proper free jump or anything like that, you just hold the right trigger and the main character, Koru, will start running forward and automatically interact with platforming objects in front of him. This allows you to quickly climb up ropes or jump from point to point but it does take all the guess-work out of things. The free running works in Assassin’s Creed because you have a big open vertical world and so the controls need be adaptable to let you freely explore and find your way, in Last Tinker though the platforming is insanely linear featuring nothing straight node based lines of rocky outcroppings and hanging ropes that basically have you do nothing but hold the trigger and run forward. There isn’t any challenge or thought to the movement aside from the occasional bit of tricky timing. The combat is equally one note, taking Arkham Asylum’s quick group based combat and removing most of the complexity. You have three basic modes of attack you unlock throughout the game which are each allocated to one of the face buttons; B is basic damage, A will scare enemies and cause them to run in the opposite direction, and X will stun guys so you can defeat them with a back attack. For most of the game though you’ll be using the B attack because the A one is very situational and the X one isn’t unlocked till near the end of the game. This means you’ll just be zipping between guys mashing the B button and occasionally dodging, countering isn’t really necessary as enemies take forever to wind up attacks and the few special moves you can buy aren’t really all that interesting. There’s also some puzzles you’ll need to complete which all center around a pair of mushroom men that you can imbue with colour and emotion but the solutions to these puzzles are always far too obvious. The actions your fungal friends can do and what those actions will actually effect in the environment are pretty limited so you end up with some very binary hammer and nail puzzles that anyone with two brain cells to rub together could figure out. There’s no real greater skill in this game to master or bevy of meaningful yet well hidden collectibles to find. Well that’s not entirely true, there are some fairly well hidden golden paintbrushes to hunt for in each level but for the most part all they unlock is concept art, the Thrills Gum of video game unlockables.

The game looks absolutely gorgeous though some of the environments do have a habit of running together.

The game looks absolutely gorgeous though some of the environments do have a habit of running together.

Somewhat ironically, after just spending a paragraph complaining about how simple the gameplay is, my complaint with the story is that it’s not simple enough. That’s not to say it’s some deeply nuanced narrative full of complex characters, but rather that the subject matter it is trying to discuss and the way it discusses it makes the game work for only a certain age group, in this case very young kids. The premise is that you are Koru, a young monkey looking individual who lives in the City of Colours, a place built upon nothing more than paint, glue, and paper and divided along lines of colour with the Red, Blue, and Green citizens avoiding each other at all costs except in the all-inclusive outer district where you live. One day the purple colour spirit appears before you and says that you are the last of the Tinkers, a group capable of bending colour to their will, and that you must help him unite the city. Turns out his idea of unity though involves a lot of destruction and using your powers he unleashes the Bleakness, a messy white entity that erases all colour in its path. Now Koru must find the other colour spirits, help them resolve their personal issues, and then save the city by defeating purple. It is a dead simple take on the evils of racism and the importance of cultural unity and while it’s a very necessary lesson to get across to young children, anyone over the age of 12 is probably going to find its Barney-esque take on such a large issue rather trite. To use Banjo Kazooie as an counter-example, that had a very basic and easily approachable story (a witch kidnaps your sister, go get your sister back) and then livened that up with Rare’s classic British wit. There’s no way for the story of Banjo’s quest to save his sister to come off as shallow or ill-explained because it feels like a simple story book plot with no deeper meaning which allows it to be enjoyed by anyone. The Last Tinker however, in deciding to broach a more real world issue, opens itself up to some deeper questions for which game obviously does not have answers, as I said it’s a kid’s game and as such the explanations behind things are simple to a fault. The reason these people don’t get along is because one day they all basically decided they didn’t like each other even though they’d all been perfectly happy previously, at no point did the Reds decide it was time to cull the inferior Green race or anything like that, they’re all just fickle.

Despite all my griping, The Last Tinker: City of Colours is not a bad game, it’s just somewhat uninteresting and doesn’t live up to the goals it has set for itself. If you’ve got a kid and want to give them a game that will provide 5-6 hours of well-meaning and child safe fun then The Last Tinker will do the trick but for older audiences (and we’re talking like 12 and up) it’s just not going to cut it.  Despite the wonderful and whimsical presentation, the simplistic gameplay and banal storytelling cause the game to wear thin far too quickly. While it’s most certainly an admirable effort by a small team, it just doesn’t live up to its inspirations and isn’t going to satisfy a lot of gamers, as such I’m giving The Last Tinker: City of Colours a 3 out 5 stars.

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