I'll warn you now: do not be fooled by Toki Tori, for beneath its cute, feathery exterior and twee music beats the heart of a pure puzzler, not to mention one of the most taxing games I've played for a while. Despite the fact that it kept stumping me, Toki Tori almost never stopped being enjoyable, and in my mind is the dark horse of the WiiWare launch line-up.
It's a consistently clever game that rewards lateral thinking and preparation, yet I fear that Two Tribes' title will be ignored in the breathless fanboy rush for Dr. Mario and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. It wouldn't be the first time that has happened, either -- the Game Boy Color version was greeted by rave reviews in 2001, yet was completely overshadowed by the new, swish Game Boy Advance.
Anyway, the star of the game is newly hatched chick Toki Tori, who emerges from his egg to discover that his (rather numerous) siblings have been whisked off from their coop before hatching. From this point, it is Toki Tori's job to track down his brothers and sisters, by negotiating seventy levels (only forty of which are strictly necessary) of obstacles, enemies, and his eggnapped relatives.
For this WiiWare remake of the GBC title, Two Tribes has utilized the Wii Remote's pointer function to guide Toki Tori around the game's 2D levels -- simply point where you'd like him to go, press A, and he'll waddle over. This works perfectly well (and a second player can join in), but because Toki's movement is limited to walking, running, a small hop, climbing ladders, and some light flapping of his newborn wings that helps to cushion falls, he needs some assistance, which is where his tools come in handy.
Tools are unlocked throughout the game, and include (amongst others) the ability to build bridges, stack crates, encase enemies in blocks of ice, and even teleport around levels. These are the keys to finishing every stage (achieved by rescuing all of your siblings), though often you'll only have a set number of each tool, meaning one wrong move forces you to restart.
As you'd expect, restarting becomes increasingly common as the game progresses (note: you do get one "Wildcard," which can be used to skip a single level), but you'd never guess it from the first six or seven levels, which are an absolute walkover. Combined with its cutesy visuals and chirpy soundtrack, this elementary opening misled me into believing that I was reviewing a game for a younger audience; that is, until I hit the eighth level in the opening world, and proceeded to gawk at the screen for twenty minutes before finding a solution. At first, I put this down as a mere blip -- then changed my mind on the next level, which took me half an hour.
Maybe I'm just a bit thick, but I found that Toki Tori can be pretty damn hard. But here's the thing: while it forces you to use your noodle, the game is never frustrating, and the solutions always make perfect sense; I don't think I've kicked myself so many times while playing a game since getting hooked on Hasami shogi in Clubhouse Games. For an idea of how it actually feels to play, Lemmings would be one point of reference, though Mario vs. Donkey Kong and its DS sequel would probably be a more accurate comparison; indeed, it's tempting to think that Nintendo's title was directly influenced by Toki Tori.
Visually, the game is exactly as it needs to be -- pretty, without ever becoming cluttered -- and Toki Tori himself is a charming little fellow. The tunes can become a little bothersome during extended sessions of play, but hell, televisions come with volume controls for a reason, right? My only other criticism would be reserved for the game's slightly erratic difficulty curve -- finding yourself stuck on one level for thirty minutes and then completing the next three stages inside ten minutes is not uncommon. The bonus "Hard" stages certainly live up to their name, however. Frankly, some of them made me want to curl up and cry.
As much as everybody seems to be looking forward to Dr. Mario, Toki Tori is just as adept at sucking away hefty chunks of your free time -- it's intelligent, charming, well-designed, and addictive, and Two Tribes deserve a bit of success this time around. Now watch it get totally overlooked again.
Final score: 8/10