Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Toki Tori 2 review: Not for birdbrains


Despite the decade plus between the first and second Toki Tori games, Two Tribes's Wii U (and soon PC) evolution of the Game Boy Color game is striking. The 2001 puzzle-platformer was neat, charming, and challenging. Its compact levels and tool-contextual actions evoked Lemmings, albeit with the micromanagement filtered out. You controlled a dopey-looking bird in blocky 2D platform levels, making him manipulate his environment to open up paths to progress. This simplicity, however, was negated by some very specific solutions. It was, and still is, a likable little puzzler.

What's clever about Toki Tori 2 is how it doesn't deviate from that ethos, and yet it feels like a completely different game. If anything, its evolution of the first game's principles is to make them simpler, yet the result is something much more complex. It's weird, because there's a pungent minimalism about Toki Tori 2, but it's this minimalism that branches out in so many ways through the environment, and the result is distinct and, more than anything, clever. The reason it all works is because Toki Tori 2, with all its environmental nuances, makes you want to be as intelligent as it is.

Gallery: Toki Tori 2 (3/14/13) | 6 Photos

The returning dumpy bird is limited now to two actions outside of movement: chirping and stomping. These minimal controls are matched by a game that, between its title sequence and credits, puts few, if any, words on screen. Toki Tori 2 simply places you in its 2D platforming world then, using little visual cues like a bird fluttering from one point to the next, guides you along. Think Limbo, odd as that sounds, but without all the gloom.

It initially seems Toki Tori 2 demands a lot of intuition, but when you only have two actions experimenting isn't such a task, and it's easy to realize how much you can manipulate your surroundings despite your limitations. Stomping, for example, can send creatures like block-holding crabs away from you, raise and lower platforms, take out obstacles, keep other creatures in a particular place, send them to the ceiling ... the list goes on. As with the first Toki Tori, it's all about environmental context, and Toki Tori 2 throws in lots of contexts within its cavalcade of conundrums.

Chirping has its own set of environmental consequences, the biggest coming from the various songs you can sing. By holding down the button for a long note, and pressing it quickly for a short one, you can create a number of ditties. As you come across other birds singing their tunes it's natural to copy them, and that's how you learn songs in Toki Tori 2.

The most important of these songs produces a giant bird who can swoop down and pick you up, taking you to another screen that literally gives you a bird's eye view of what you learn is the game's open world. It's at this point, when you realize the weird obelisks you've been finding are landmarks where the bird can drop you, that the game clicks as a Metroid-like, open-ended puzzler with lots of interconnected areas. Suddenly the game seems more complex than the simple chirp-and-stomper it initially presented itself to be, and it's true; there's scope to Toki Tori 2, with plenty of little secrets to discover, including cave paintings and even a room entirely dedicated to disco.

There's little doubt Toki Tori 2 is a cleverly designed game, and that's reflected in puzzles that somehow grow trickier despite the severe simplicity of your available actions. As per the first game, the solutions are specific, and often very precise. You'll need to do things in certain orders, and sometimes with careful timing, and this can often lead to repetition. It's here where Toki Tori 2 stutters a little, because a wrong action here and there, even with the checkpoints (and the song to reverse your actions and return to the last checkpoint), can force you to repeat things across several minutes, especially if you're a bit stumped. This repetition adds to the frustration of not knowing how to progress.
It's a shame developer Two Tribes didn't implement the rewind feature it added to later versions of Toki Tori. There's an argument checkpoints place greater emphasis on precision, and make death (when it happens) significant, but many of the puzzles are thorny and intricate enough without having to repeat them in full many times over.

Even so, having this pretty, serene game as an off-TV experience makes this issue feel easier to deal with. Like a tricky crossword puzzle tying you in knots, Toki Tori 2 on the GamePad becomes magnetic to your hands as you pace across the house trying to meditate on a solution, and even though you may put it down to relax your mind for a little bit, you find yourself naturally picking it up to try again.

Toki Tori 2 is just one of a growing number of games, particularly independent ones, to refrain from spelling things out to its players. Nonetheless, it matches this respect for its players with easy controls that belie the game's complex puzzles. It's surprisingly refreshing, and yet very unassuming. While the occasional frustration may grate, it's this charming simplicity that will always pull you back in.

This review is based on an eShop of the Wii U version of Toki Tori 2, provided by Two Tribes.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr