Say hello to Tinkertown. If you didn’t know already, Tinkertown is where all color comes from. The three colors (red, green, and blue) represent the inhabitants of Tinkertown who produce the dust that becomes color; or, at least, they did at one time. Color production has come to a halt. Why? Each color group no longer likes each other. The red citizens have a superiority complex which has driven them to hate green and blue, the hate has stricken the green folks with fear, and the blues have fallen into deep sorrow at how the world has become divided. A small sub-segment of Tinkertown still desires to celebrate its diversity, but they are drowned out by the ferocity of emotions from the other colors.
Enter Koru and Tap, our hero and sidekick. Koru is either a monkey or some kind of ape-like dude; I’m not sure which as h’se referred to as both in the course of the game, but he looks more like a monkey to me. Koru is our “tinker” with the ability to harness powers from the spirits of each of the three colors; but before Koru is even aware of his ability, he is deceived into bringing bleakness to Tinkertown, a malicious snow-like fog that consumes the world and spawns menacing creatures throughout.
Thus, the stage set by Mimimi Productions in The Last Tinker: City of Colors, a 3D platformer and puzzle-solving adventure, is set. The color allegory is simple but clever. It is easy to see the point the designers are making where differences that should be celebrated can drive wedges between peoples and spawn negative emotions. The overall simplicity of theme and style of the game seems to focus on younger gamers as the target audience right off the bat. There is even a “Kids” mode as a level of difficulty. But of course, first impressions can be deceiving.
The gameplay (in the beginning, at least) reinforces the “a game for kids” feel. Platforming is a simple matter of holding R2 while moving and the game performs all the jumping for you. Actually, the only jumping that occurs in the game is when skidding along rails where the player must avoid obstacles by leaping over them or onto another rail running alongside. I found the rail-riding to be the most satisfying and most challenging as it took a few tries in many cases to make it to the end. But aside from the rails, there are many points in the game I simply wanted to jump to the objective rather than simply searching for a predefined path.
As the game progresses, the obstacles and challenges in navigating levels do become more complex. Some levels feel like a 3D version of frogger where timing becomes a factor to leap on top of or through moving objects. There is fun to be had in The Last Tinker’s platforming modes, but many gamers may feel cheated that a self-described “platformer” doesn’t quite live up to the label.
Like the platforming, attacking begins very simply as well with a single button mashing foray coupled with a dodge move, but Koru’s abilities are enhanced by each of the color spirits as the game progresses. Red gives Koru the ability to shoot color at his enemies, doing damage. The other spirits give Koru the ability to manipulate enemies rather than harm them. Green attacks strike the enemy with fear so that they run away. Blue attacks make the enemy morose and vulnerable. I found using these combinations to be a lot of fun when tackling hordes of bleak enemies. I used green attacks in combination with the terrain to dispatch many a foe off a cliff or into a deadly briar patch. Other times, I used green first followed by a blue attack which left the fleeing enemy sulking and vulnerable to my red power attack and a one-punch kill. Thankfully, battling foes is much more fleshed out than the platforming side of the game and is the most satisfying aspect of the gameplay.
The mini-games puzzles, unfortunately, do not work nearly as well. To gain access to some areas, Koru is confronted with a number of flowers or mushrooms that serve as a lock. To unlock these, each flower or mushroom must be hit with a color attack in the correct order. Koru must search the area to find clues to the combination. The problem is that in some cases the clues are too well-hidden, if they are, in fact, there at all. In many cases, I gave up searching and resorted to trial and error and was able to unlock the challenge every time. This robs the experience of the “a-ha!” moment and is just plain annoying.
The story itself has many trying moments as well. The problem is that the plot diverges on too many tangents. The theme of achieving unity among the colors and thwarting the bleakness gets lost in the minutia quests that take Koru and Tap far off the path of the main objective as these tasks are often quite petty. The spirits of the three colors have locked themselves away deep in their own realms. Koru and Tap must complete quests that will hopefully knock some sense into the spirits so they can help address the bleakness that threatens Tinkertown’s existence. It seems as if the designers were very aware of the rabbit hole that they were taking the player down as Tap, more than once, expresses exasperation with the silly little things that must be done in the face of annihilation. Tap is right. Simply put, parts of the game feel like senseless filler.
The 3D graphics of The Last Tinker are a refreshing change from the plethora of 2D side-scrollers of the current indie offerings. This isn’t a graphical masterpiece by any means, but it wasn’t intended to be. It is a rich, lush, and, of course, colorful 3D world. The controls work very well and I did not notice any issues with performance. Occasionally, the camera’s view during battles would be obscured by terrain, but this was rare. The music of The Last Tinker is simply wonderful. On many occasions I found my head bopping along with the music as I traveled through the world.
The Last Tinker does not rival predecessors in the genre such as Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank–not even close. It just feels like a watered-down derivative. Comparisons aside, gameplay starts too simply and this fact alone may only hold the attention of younger gamers for very long while others may jump ship before it starts to get pretty good. For those who want to get their $20 worth out of the game, I think they will ultimately be satisfied that the game delivers, but it isn’t among the most memorable experiences.
The story is admirable in its theme and the allegory is simple enough for gamers of all ages to get, but the plot is far too linear for far too long which loses the point of it all along the way. The Last Tinker redeems itself in some very good battling mechanics towards the middle. This along with the beautiful music and the rich, colorful 3D realm of Tinkertown are what make The Last Tinker worth buying. But I can’t help but think that first impressions, in this case, proved true. Parents looking for an age appropriate adventure for their young gamer should give The Last Tinker a look, as this game will certainly appeal to children. Older gamers may find enjoyment in the music, atmosphere, and battles, but when it is all said and done, they may find it ultimately forgettable.