Toki Tori 2
Wii U Download | Two Tribes | 1 Player | Out Now | $14.99 / £12.99
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad
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3rd April 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Being that this chirpy fellow is not a new face and has proven itself rather competently in the past, Two Tribes was entitled to change up the formula for a more risky follow-up, and change things up they did. Stripping away the chicken's gadgetry, power-ups have now been removed and there is also an absence of text and other directional pointers. Admittedly, this interpretation of a less perilous, take-matters-into-your-own-hands approach may rightly meet with a wary attitude, as it really could go either way. If poorly managed, this toned-back approach of relying entirely on player smarts could be an overestimation of the audience. But this openness and emphasis on self-direction has translated to a warm and dignified puzzle-platforming experience, one that represents a praiseworthy accomplishment of encouraging self-discovery with parental-like execution.
Eschewing such ordinary preliminaries as tutorials and lengthy dialogue, Toki Tori 2's overall vision is one guided by a discernibly light air, but that doesn't minimize its impact. Going by what you see on-screen in the peaceful land that Toki Tori inhabits, it becomes apparent that a threatening force is afoot. Geysers have shot up spewing poisonous liquid and tremors are disrupting the sanctity of the in-game world. The source of these events becomes revealed not too far into the experience, but leading up to this point, you won't witness a sharp degradation of the setting. Rather, the effects are rather measured in relation to the utopian atmosphere that is maintained over the long haul. Even so, the story is told entirely in a visual sense without the use of voiceovers or text.
Interacting with what's around you will boil down to two abilities: Stomps (B Button) and Whistles (A Button). On a basic level, both can be used to call insects and flying creatures to you or to repel them, but tied to whistles are four features that are differentiated by long and short note patterns. Resembling the role of the Ocarina in Zelda games, these include the ability to jump back to the last marker or entry point; flight transportation in the way of a large chicken, which requires you to be within walking distance of a checkpoint; an item radar that points out collectible pieces respective to your current position; and a camera connected to the GamePad's gyroscope for taking snapshots of wildlife and other souvenirs for your Tokidex album, bringing the same soft tourism element present in the WiiWare version of Toki Tori. To draw from the point earlier about mechanics, you could come to the conclusion, just by the sound of things, that the game isn't deep from an involvement perspective. But even with accessibility being at the forefront, this notion of gameplay not carrying much depth is not the case.
The world is not overrun with spectacular creatures or monsters, instead using strategically-positioned, commonplace animals and critters as a point of consistency with the super-friendly atmosphere. Crabs hide inside rectangular blocks as their shell and can be directed to provide a step or a bridge, or to serve another less elementary purpose. Noise-sensitive porcupines become incredibly antsy when you stomp in their presence, so much so that they show their fangs, as it were, and move at ramming speed. Blue birds hover above patches of grass and open areas to escort you or other creatures to a nest, principally functioning as a gatekeeper of sorts but also a chauffeur when their help is needed to advance. Butterflies and glowing bugs come into play when navigating through scarcely-lit caves or corridors where no light source penetrates the entire stretch. And, too, you have wheezy, kazoo-like bugs that echo whistles for a longer reach or to serve as a stand-in on a lower level to guide other creatures when you can't be directly present.
Out of them all, you'll be exposed to Bubble Frogs the most. These adorable and mischievous critters experience an exaggerated bloating effect after inhaling bugs, producing a bubble that Toki Tori or others can travel in for a few seconds. On a more important note, weaving through the game's open-world structure will eventually reveal that the future of Toki Tori's world lies in the power of five rare frogs that, while not granting new abilities, bear simple characteristics to tell them apart -- size, an immunity to fire, and one other special state I won't spoil. As part of the game's system, platforming puzzles are introduced seamlessly, abandoning the linear and regimented level progression seen in the original game. In like manner, stone obelisk-like markers function as general landing points for when you can take to the skies. And in many ways, this navigation system does much good for the game, taking the tedium out of the progression and the prompted actions that sometimes ensue over the course of this development.
Getting back to the core vision, though, one of Toki Tori 2's greatest strengths has to do with the ways in which it encourages discovery and player stimulation. "What happens when I do this?" is a question that will direct much of your decision-making, and the game does much to make this curious behaviour possible, standing back and letting you do your own thing. And checkpoints, while not entirely eliminating fear of the unknown, put players at ease and make you feel in control. To say these features collaborate to make for a magical pacing is a bit of a stretch, but because of the level design's support in this area of being open to experimentation and whatnot, it does beget willingness on the player's part to not take things at face value and be alert to subtle opportunities.
Without question, the puzzle-platforming at work here is thoughtful and well-designed, allowing the game's innocence to mature by encouraging exploratory interaction with most facets of the environment. To be sure, the puzzles are more position-focused than timing-based, but that doesn't stop the game from presenting some fiendishly clever layouts and paths. If anything, it helps it to achieve the same level of depth seen in the original and then accelerate this while not having the difficulty distance or greatly impede. It's regularly of interest to see the type of roles that are initiated and what tactics must be undertaken. To make reference once more to the blue birds, there are times when Toki Tori must use small critters as a decoy to escape detection, stomp while a bird is in mid-flight to drop a needed insect into a patch of grass, or whistle to bring birds over to an area they normally don't survey for a different purpose. Whether these birds are the main catalyst or not, often puzzles take on a secondary context or lead to unexplored routes when you break away from what you're directly told and influence creatures for a new end altogether.
Puzzles that involve the use of light-emitting butterflies are also quite involving in the properties they share. You can do a stomp to scare them off, but where you slam has an impact on the direction they travel in. One must also be aware that they can be extinguished by water, so passing through a vertical stream where it's dark and protected by an enemy on the other side will mean bringing other butterflies together and having them flutter just beside the current for an amplified light source. To speak to some of the other subtle tactics you'll employ, jumping in small pools of water will have Toki Tori dripping for a few seconds, so you can use this to shower empty soil and grow tall grass, or to nullify the field produced by blue bugs through a stomp.
A fair share of other puzzles will most certainly stump players when first exposed to them, as the solutions are somewhat complex to arrive at. One requires you to take into account two Bubble Frogs, have them positioned precisely so that you can trigger one while the other is triggered shortly thereafter by a porcupine, presenting an opportunity to transition between bubbles to get to high ground. But as challenging as these are, it is very satisfying to clear these on your own and without help, which may be why the developers purposely limited how many "extra" clues they leave in the vicinity of a puzzle. Evidently, they chose well, and naturally this aligns well with the puzzles found in the original (some require a similar thinking process as was seen in the Creepy Castle and Slimy Sewer worlds in particular).
Because of how clean and unpolluted the design is, it produces a firm sense of flow that fans of the genre will be glued to, even when the more vague puzzles call for trial-and-error. That said, I can't go without mentioning that there are moments when in venturing further into this open-world approach, Toki Tori 2 confuses. Much of this can be attributed to the direction of only explaining what's necessary through visual methods, because while it's more often than not a boon for the formula, other times it's a bit of a pain. At one point in my experience, I spent what felt like hours retracing my steps when I was unsure how to progress or the right path to travel on. Sure, I did find some interesting surprises along the way, so it wasn't a total upset. But it was only after I thought I had exhausted all current possibilities that I discovered I could make an interaction I had no idea was even possible. A huge sigh of relief that was, but I'd be putting on a false front if I said the rigmarole didn't leave me a tad bitter.
To the same token, where the game becomes uncomfortable is when it comes to working through things backwards. Because of the nature of the backtracking, it makes sense that you would be able to re-enter locations from a general marker. But where these are positioned doesn't always seem proper from the standpoint that the only way to go back a certain way is by going the long way around. To put it another way, the design simply doesn't allow you to re-tread certain areas in an immediate and accessible sense. In some situations, the only way to advance after the fact is to, for example, lure birds to a moving stone column to get crushed, due to the resource you might have used before resting in an area you can't reach in your current state. With all this being the case, it can be said, then, that the open-world system in connection with the physical level design is not always fully-realized with complete foresight. And just to add, while the ability to see from an overhead view any remaining pieces you have yet to collect, it would've been more beneficial if players were able to identify where they've been and areas they need to inspect later on.
It also gets a little complicated when spelunking the deeper caverns, since most areas lock out the ability to return to the map. In these cases, you need to have an expectation in mind that once you're in, there's no getting out the easy way. I discovered this the hard way when a butterfly I had relied on to get through a two-way entrance got stuck in a corner I could no longer reach, suddenly making it a one-way dead-end that I could only get out of by hitting the reset button. Ultimately, in both this circumstance and the ones above, it's this margin for error that doesn't settle in a complete sense, and while there are methods to get around this or circumvent the problem, it does prove to be a flaw to the formula.
I doubt anyone, though, could find extended fault with Toki Tori 2's vibes and overall production values, as they do a stellar job of capturing scenic variety, with fresh foliage and special lighting without ever betraying the docile nature of the overall atmosphere. Animations are smooth and problem-free, with behaviours of critters taking on a quirky tone as you see them shivering out of nervousness while in the dark. And aside from the two game freezes I encountered (not sure where the fault lies there), the technical execution is consistent and very much above-par. For the purpose of solidifying the game's purity, visual setups are uncluttered with settings having just the right amount and enough balance to not overshadow what the team applies focus to at a given time.
The audio design especially impresses, as music is used sparingly to convey emotions and illustrate serenity, even intensity on rare occasions. Supporting the very backdrops spoken of earlier are ambient sounds that carry tribal roots and overtones you'd associated with a rainforest, including drum beats, semi-indistinct chants and cries, wind chimes, as well as unseen woodpeckers making click-clack-clack sounds. As well, jingles are activated upon discovering secret or hard-to-reach locations, which is a decent touch. All sounds vary depending on the location and are expanded upon as you sink deeper into a stretch of a particular environment, never becoming noisy or too muted to prompt a reaction. One track in particular is a gentle, sweet-sounding lullaby with tearful violin strums that is such a pleasure to listen to. It's a serious highlight that makes you stop and really take in its beauty.
Now, this will vary depending on the fortitude you have when up against the game's tougher puzzles, but for me, it was after roughly 11 or 12 hours that I completed the main story objective. To be perfectly honest, the game's anticlimactic ending is a real downer -- calling it a "resolution" would be generous -- but that aside, the time spent with the game is well worth the price of admission for such an endearing formula. While Toki Tori 2 isn't gigantic in scope and the average player can power through it in under 15 hours, the thought of discovering new secrets and gates previously unexplored is just as motivating as it was while you were playing with the game's progression in mind. I have no clue if there are hidden goodies for puzzle wizards who can nab every last collectible and fill the Tokidex in full, but even without an incentive, exploring Toki Tori 2's world in its entirety is a moderately enticing prospect.
Toki Tori 2 channels its ideas and emphasis on player discovery and subtle provocation rather skillfully, featuring an addicting progression and flow that doesn't abate even as players enter the long hours. Coming out of its precursory shell, the result isn't entirely unexplored territory, nor does it break new ground. But what it does do, it does exceedingly well and with pleasing responsibility. Looking past the improved progression and built-in systems, Toki Tori 2 is a fantastic sequel that exposes players to a thriving universe full of clever design. It remains a strong puzzle-platforming experience to savour and be warmed by.
27/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 8/10 - Strong level design, especially clever in light of its toned-back approach, flaws in relation to its open-world ideas and backtracking
Presentation 10/10 - Soundtrack features serene highlights, cautious audio use and layouts, prosperous universe, clean animations, lovely scenery
Enjoyment 5/5 - Challenging and satisfying puzzles, addicting flow, compelling in its clever touches, innocence matures through engaging design
Extra Content 4/5 - Lasts around 15 hours or so, collectible pieces scattered about that encourage further exploration, Tokidex album entries
Equivalent to a score of 90% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System