Release Date: October 26, 2006
When you first say the name "Tecmo," you'll get a handful of reactions. Most gamers will either give you a blank stare or instantly bring up what have become the company's flagship titles: Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive. A few devout gamers from the NES era, like myself, may get misty-eyed and reminisce about the days when Madden didn't own everything and there was a little game by the name of Tecmo Bowl. If you're extremely lucky, you'd find a select few who make a passing mention of the Monster Rancher series ... but never once will any gamer immediately bring to mind the extremely niche title on the PSP known only as Tokobot.
While most of the PSP-owning populace was busy learning how to emulate other systems on their PSPs or playing Grand Theft Auto and Lumines, Tokobot flew entirely under the world's radar, unnoticed by all but those whose job it is to review games. It's a bit of a shame, too, because the original Tokobot was a lighthearted, enjoyable platformer, full of mischief and bright colors – a superb title for the PSP-owning child in your life. Luckily, now Tokobot is getting a second chance, released on the PlayStation 2 as a half-port of sorts, Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri.
Almost a year old now, Tokobot is the tale of Bolt, a young man from the land of Moritari. Moritari was home to a prehistoric civilization of overwhelming technological prowess, a civilization that, for some reason, vanished without a trace. Well, there were actually plenty of traces in the form of numerous treasure-filled ruins, and in their technology, which has been adapted to make things such as the Tokobots, a group of six robotic helpers for Bolt. The game starts with Bolt about to take the equivalent of his entrance exam for the rank of Treasure Master. If this sounds familiar, it is; Tokobot Plus is the exact same game as Tokobot. Well, not exact ... there are a few minor changes, but we'll get to those later. Bolt initially wanders around the ruins as a test, and he revisits them later to unearth prehistoric artifacts and what have you. As stated, he's not alone and has the help of his Tokobot friends and his spotter-like assistant, Ruby.
Those who have a taste for more obscure platformers in the PlayStation's days may find similarities between this and Capcom's under-appreciated Mega Man Legends, and they certainly would have a reason. Almost everything, from the setting to the control scheme, seems like it's taken a sampling of what that series offered. There are enough differences to say it's more of a shared mindset or homage than downright plagiarism, though – most notably, the tokobots themselves bring quite a unique air to the game.
The tokobots are literally always at Bolt's side. As you roam about, you switch between one of three formations for your robotic friends: one with them at each side of Bolt, one with them circling him, and one with them lined up behind him. Each formation has different skills and, by extension, different uses; one is useful for pushing switches, while another is handy for turning gears and spinning you around like a helicopter propeller so you can glide gracefully to the ground as opposed to plummeting. Those who played the original PSP version will find the control for switching between formations greatly streamlined; all of them are now accessible by pushing that formation's corresponding face button, and performing attacks and other actions with them are toggled with the same button.
In addition, throughout your journeys, you will come across stone tablets that will power up your friends, granting them the ability to use their powers in different ways or granting them Overdrives. Overdrives come in two forms: Assist Type, miscellaneous devices such as cranes or rail cars used in specific places to progress or to solve puzzles; and Battle Type, monster-decimating attacks that drain the tokobots' stored energy like a super move should. To power those up, you gather up rare treasures, red cogs, sparkplugs, and golden bells (?) to sell to the research department of the lab where Bolt makes his base of operations. Usually, the power-ups consist of increased damage, but increasing the level of your Battle Overdrives also causes them to hit more enemies at once, making them even more powerful.
If that weren't enough, there are also blue portals throughout the ruins – one of the additions I mentioned earlier – that take you into bonus stages reminiscent of some of the areas in Super Mario Sunshine. Once inside, Bolt is required to solve a puzzle or perform daring feats of "not falling to his death" in order to get to the other end, where a rare treasure awaits. Occasionally, some of the Tokobots' special skills will be disabled, and these areas range from pleasant diversions to controller-chucking precision.
Aside from that, the extras are rather bare-bones, with a bonus dungeon here or there, or a few fixes to a still-spastic camera. There is apparently an unwritten law in 3D platform gaming that says that the camera will always glitch up on you and require manual readjustment while you're in the most inconvenient of places, such as while you're performing tricky jumps on moving platforms or in the middle of battle.
Audio is the typical mixed bag; present is a fairly impressive soundtrack, something that you could put on your music player and listen to, though don't be surprised if you have to explain why you're listening to video game music. On the other hand, the voice acting is the typical mid-quality anime-level work, with wooden actors and canned dialogue quite typically popping up. Graphically, the game is pleasant to look at, though technologically, it's a few steps behind. Tokobot Plus still looks like a PSP game, even though it's been upgraded to the PS2. It hardly hurts the gameplay, though, short of camera issues, so it's a minor gripe at best.
If you're looking for an affordable last-minute gift for the holidays, keep in mind that Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri is only $30 in stores, despite being an almost brand-new release. Although it's hardly the PlayStation 2's perfect platformer, it's not that bad of a game. It's a bit too linear, and it's obviously got a slant toward a younger audience with some of the puzzle-solving, but Tokobot Plus is enjoyable by young and old alike. Be wary if you already own the PSP version of Tokobot, since there's not much different between this title and your version. Otherwise, go ahead and give Tokobot Plus a try, especially if you have younger gamers in your house.
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