Recall with me, gentle reader, back to a not long ago time where Nintendo was getting by with the N64 and Gamecube, and not every big-budget game had to be a shooter and/or a sandbox-survival-simulator; a time when birds lived in backpacks, goofy collectables dotted the landscape, and you yourself were probably some kind of adorable biped mammal.
I’m talking, of course, about the heyday of 3D platformers, a more innocent time that The Last Tinker: City of Colors harkens back to. The Last Tinker, the newest title by German indie developer Mimimi Studios, which was previously known for a handful of iOS board games, places you in the monkey-shoes of Koru, a monkey guy who lives in Colortown, something of a safe haven in his hand-constructed world of arts, crafts, and friendly mushrooms. Koru is known as a Tinker, a mythical breed of creative types who can manipulate colors in the world around them to influence surrounding objects and enemies. A horrible lack of imagination called the Bleakness has befallen his world, and it’s up to Koru to jump, punch, and skyline his way to victory!
This sounds like it could have been really any 3D platformer released between 1998 and 2005, right? And, it basically is, with a few noteworthy differences that betray its 2014 vintage. The bulk of the gameplay consists of moving around the world, collecting new powers and various little trinkets, smashing any boxes and barrels in your way, and getting rightfully scolded by the owners of said boxes and barrels to reveal the goodies that lie inside. Occasionally, you’ll get the chance to lead around a decently-responsive AI partner, such as a shape-changing mushroom man, to help solve rudimentary find the thing or cross the gap puzzles.
One of the most modern aspects of The Last Tinker is the traversal itself. In a similar fashion to most modern games with a platforming/freerunning aspect such as Assassin’s Creed or, perhaps more to the point, the underrated 2008 Prince of Persia reboot, holding down the right trigger causes Koru to dash forward, automatically jump over obstacles and leap to the next platform. Now, your initial response to this may be to decry it as an “automatic win” button, but that’s not quite the case. Koru merely handles the jumping and landing, but the timing and direction is still up to you. This changes the dynamic of many of the platforming challenges you encounter. The game forces you to focus more on avoiding obstacles and timing your jumps to coincide with a platform’s availability, and less on landing on a two-polygon-wide rock or something. It’s different, sure, but refreshing.
The other one, which is a bit more surprising is the combat! Sure, 3D platformers have had punching and kicking since Super Mario 64, but it’s always been sort of imprecise. Or, on the other hand, platformers putting a greater emphasis on combat such as Ratchet and Clank tend to focus mostly on long-range shooting, often to the detriment of the actual platforming. The Last Tinker manages to keep its combat just as limber as its navigation by drawing inspiration from an unlikely source: the…recent Batman games? When combat is engaged, and you will be surprised at the number of opponents you are expected to beat up during each encounter, the camera pulls back a little bit; your targeted enemy is helpfully highlighted, and Koru is free to weave between them while you spam the ‘punch’ and ‘dodge’ keys. Sure, the combos aren’t anywhere near as involved or difficult, but the fights are fluid, intuitive, and help to infuse the game with the spirit of a platformer even if you’re too busy punching. The Batman influence only makes sense, really; think about how much time Batman spends jumping or gliding to, off or from things. He’s the superhero equivalent of Banjo-Kazooie!
Forgive my tangents. The Last Tinker looks to be a fun, colorful antidote to the slowly-stemming but still-prevalent modern gaming trends of brown-grey grimness with little to no jumping. If you’re the sort who enjoys artistic worlds, hopping ‘n bopping, or both, The Last Tinker will be absolutely worth a look when it comes out this summer.