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When people ask me why I play certain games I have a variety of different answers. If I am playing a game like Professor Layton or Brain Age I say I am testing my mind. If I am playing a game online (no matter the genre) I usually say the reason is because I like playing with others. When I am playing an RPG I say I want to be part of a story. Then there are some games that I have the simple answer of: “I just want to have some fun”. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I give this answer a lot. Sure some of the games I play may be called “Childish” but who among us can say that they haven’t watched a classic Disney movie or even a current Pixar flick when they are considered to be “over the target age group”. Still, there are some games that appear to be in this “childish” category but are actually challenging. No I am not talking about Mega Man, Little Nemo, or Startropics I am actually talking about:
Okay okay okay now I know that this game is not going to end up on anyone hardest games lists but here me out. The reason I say this is that Tomba! comes from the mind of Fujiwara Tokuro, creator of such notable titles as:
So by virtue of this Fujiwara being head of production on Tomba! you know the game is going to be good, you know the game is going to be great, and you know the game is going to be hard right? Well two out of three is not bad, yet when you’re a little kid (at least a little kid who grew up in the 90’s) this game would seem somewhat complicated. Not because you have to memorize any difficult pattern of respawning enemies and moving platforms, or have to beat the game more than once after barely surviving…no it is simpler than that, but more on that later.
Note: When I say Tomba! I am referring to the game, but when I say Tomba I am referring to the character.
Tomba! is made by Whoopee Camp, a company that only made two games: This and its sequel: Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Return. Whoopee Camp was founded by Fujiwara in 1996 after he left Capcom (many of my friends joke that this was because he could not deal with the disappointment that was Mega Man 7). He hoped to make many innovations in the gaming world as he had done with Capcom but even though the two games were both give great reviews and sold well for the time the company split soon after the release of Tomba! 2. During his time at Whoopee Camp Fujiwara also created Deep Space in 1998, a company only known for the mediocre Extermination for the PS2 and Hungry Ghosts, which only came out in Japan (although I am not disappointed). Fujiwara finally returned to Capcom in 2005 where he really has done nothing since, which is sad because the guy is one of the greatest talents in the industry and I hope one day he brings us a stellar new IP or to revitalizes an old series.
So as I was saying Tomba! is and interesting game mostly because of its environmental programming. What am I talking about when I say this? I am talking about the way the character sprite (in this case Tomba) moves across the screen and how the game engine and camera follow him. You see Tomba! is one of those games from the 2.5D age. Wait you don’t remember 2.5D? How can you forget such great titles as Yoshi’s Story and Klonoa: Door to Phantomile (the latter I will be reviewing sometime in the future) hell even Donkey Kong Country was considered a 2.5D game. 2.5D games were games that integrated 2D character models onto 3D space or visa versa. The 2D aspect also meant that the game also was side scroller, therefore limiting character movement in a straight line (therefore making it 2D). I never really got the reason for this term but went along with it anyway. I mean Nintendo coined the term and they were also the ones coined “Video Game Insanity” (I will be reviewing this game as well if you know what I am talking about).
Tomba! first appears as a basic 2.5D games, with 2D character sprites against a 3D background. Tomba! had a foreground/background mechanic (done a few years before Nintendo in Yoshi’s Story), which could be activated on certain points on the map by pressing up on the controller or jumping down. But what really made Tomba! special was how it simulated 3D using its graphic engine. During the game there were certain environments that were designed as a multi-tiered cube. Tomba could then jump up and down the face of the cube that he was on and the camera would follow him. However, on certain points on the map you had a choice of moving to a different face of the cube, when you did this (also by pressing up) Tomba would walk to the face of the cube and the camera would rotate to get back to the side scrolling viewpoint. Using this type of engines areas in Tomba! could show give the illusion of high by having multiple foregrounds/backgrounds on one 2D picture. This concept is really hard to explain in writing so I will just show you a level where these effects are employed:
To see this as a kid was pretty cool and I have to admit it was an ingenious idea that I do not think has ever been used in any other series of games. However, not all the areas in Tomba! were like this, as there were places in the game that presented an area with a bird’s eye view. There levels were almost always towns and you really could not do any action except run and talk to people. You could enter houses but the game would present this as only entering another area of the map, blacking out the main area and only showing you the area inside the house. This works well but really isn’t the most exciting portion of the game (and why should it be?).
At first glance Tomba appears to be a regular platformer with a given amount of lives and a health bar but Tomba combined this tried and true formula with a mission system, something that is straight out of an RPG. You would think this is somewhat bizarre as RPG and Side Scrollers would seem like an odd couple but stranger things have happened:
BACK TO THE REVIEW! BACK TO THE REVIEW!
Sorry for that folks but I wanted to use that line WITHOUT having to reference Kingdom Hearts again. Where was I…oh yes the mission system in Tomba! The game Tomba! has you complete many missions throughout the game. Whether they be plot related or not, these can be as simple as reaching a certain area to finding a certain item (or number of items) these quests take you all over the game world. For finding and solving these missions you are granted AP points (which are shown at the top right hand corner of the screen). AP points can be also gained from killing enemies to collecting healing items and gems. Collecting AP points allow for certain missions to be unlocked and for the AP boxes (that are scattered around the game world) to open when their point criteria are reached. Tomba, like most RPGs had a menu system that would show you all the items you collected; however, early on in the game it is revealed that Tomba carries all his items in his stomach. Although we have to assume Tomba is a human he could be a hybrid creature with a gullet pouch that can compress matter? Yeah I think I am taking this too literally but it really is beside the point. You could only complete the story missions, but then you would not get into most of the game’s content, as almost all of the side missions are very rewarding. This system is never really focused on in the game but it adds another aspect and an incentive to the game itself for trying to get 100% in the game. Sadly there is a glitch in the programming of the game (much like in Gran Turismo 2) that prevents you from completing the last 2 missions only allowing a maximum score of 128/130 missions (However, I think there is a way of completing the last two missions although it is somewhat tricky and I have never done it). Despite not being able to perfect the game this way it no means the game was sloppily made or programmed poorly, it in fact is one of the best made games on the Playstation only to be surpassed by its sequel.
Sadly another thing it takes from its side scrolling brethren was the story. You see the world that Tomba! takes place in used to be a beautiful world until the Evil Koma Pigs (yeah that’s right I said pigs) took over and used their magic to corrupt the world (complete with tentacle like grass and farting trees…oh I wish I was making this up). The pigs were greedy and began stealing all the gold in the world. One day Tomba saw a man being robbed by the evil pigs and decided to help, sadly Tomba was defeated and his grandfather’s gold bracelet was stolen. Now Tomba embarks on a journey not only to retrieve his bracelet but also to rid the world of the evil pigs. These main story points are shown to us in full motion video that actually works with the games graphical style unlike Fujiwara’s other projects like Mega Man 7 (although to be fair he was only producing the games at that point). In addition, while there are a few notable characters most of them are merely bland NPCs and have no real impact on the player when dealing with them.
Like I said before Tomba is a 2.5D game with 2D character sprites and 3D backgrounds and although a lot of games in this genre sometimes do not age well, yet Tomba! has. Tomba!’s 2D spites show a lot of emotion (which in certain parts of the game integrate into game play) Anger, laugher, fear, pain, happiness, and sadness are all presented incredibly well with the game’s engine. Both Tomba and the other sprites move surprisingly well in their environment, having many different sets of moves, and having the detail to actually animate them. They variety of 2D sprites should also be mentioned as there are tons of different friends and foes throughout the game. The 3D backgrounds also have a high production value each of them having a different look and feel to them, many with movable structures and grabable ledges. Although the game map appeared small each environment is huge, containing multiple areas each with hidden passageways, rooms and routes to the other areas of the game. The game’s color pallet rivals any Nintendo game and the textures on the backgrounds where phenomenal for a Playstation title using this technology.
The sound in Tomba is also really good. Although the music loops a lot there are many good tunes throughout the game (something I hope Fujiwara took from his years at Capcom), but like this game none are truly memorable. The sound effects are were the game really shines in the sound department: the noises Tomba makes when he attacks, the snorting of the pigs, the breaking of objects, the opening of doors, the rustling of leaves and grass, the slap of Tomba hands when he grabs a ledge and most importantly the sound Tomba makes when he bites and enemy:
That can’t be kosher
This is mostly due to the capabilities of the Playstation’s disc format but I think that just his work at Capcom Fujiwara always knew how to make a game excellent in all categories. It goes to show that you don’t have to be right on the cutting edge to produce a well made game. Still what really makes this game so great is, as I said before, because it is just fun.
The gameplay in Tomba is just excellent. The platforming as smooth and easy to learn but challenging at points: jumping from platform to platform, enemy to enemy to find a safe area is something reminiscent of Fujiwara’s other titles. While Tomba has an array of weapons including a blackjack (ball and chain) boomerangs and a grappling hook these are only used to stun, grab items and progress through the areas respectfully. Your main attack is, like I said before, jumping on enemies, flipping them around and throwing them. While they can be thrown into other enemies or walls on the stage throwing your enemies was important to the platforming as during the throw you jumped up giving you a much needed boost to access certain areas. Still, the main purpose of the game was to capture all the evil pigs by sealing them in their corresponding evil pig bags. Once you find an evil pig bag you search the land until a portal is opened taking you to the playing field dimension of an evil pig. You must then dodge their attacks while trying to grab them and throw them into the pig bag, which is constantly moving, three different times. While this is fun at first you soon come to realize that all the boss encounters are the same. The last gripe I could say about the game was the amount of loading there was between different areas of the game, but that was typical of certain games from that era and the rest of the game is so free flowing with seamless action that this is barely a problem. Still, I found the most fun in the game is exploring since you never really knew what was there until you just went for it. I thoroughly encourage anyone with the money to spend to find this game, as it is a great addition to any collection.
Sorry for the Strange Love reference and all my other writing mannerisms. Hoped you enjoy reading this as much as I had writing this.