Publisher: Boolat Games
Developer: Boolat Games
Release Date: July 2, 2009
It's a shame that we've seen 2-D and 3-D platformers fall by the wayside during this console generation. They really hit their stride during the 32- and 64-bit eras, with titles like Super Mario 64, Spyro and Rayman doing extremely well and being incredibly well-designed, but lately there's been a drought in the genre. That's why I was more than happy to get my hands on the PSN title, Topatoi: The Great Tree Story, which is apparently the first entry into a trilogy of titles from developer Boolat Games. Just a quick note for readers: This is a review based on the European release for the title; it hasn't been released in the U.S. yet, which is a shame because it's a pretty solid platformer on PSN.
The story of Topatoi sees you crash-landing at the base of a giant tree with your friends in tow, and you're tasked with exploring the surroundings to get your expedition back on its feet. The creatures don't seem to be based on any particular animal, though they possess some dog-like qualities, but the design is pretty solid and certainly adds to the game's charm. The game is slightly reminiscent of the original Klonoa; the creatures even speak in their own odd language, and you can read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
The main aspect of the game is the platforming, and you'll go through a series of stages as you explore the giant tree you've crashed on, hopping across chasms, knocking enemies off ledges, hitting buttons, pushing blocks and figuring out basic puzzles. All of the regular requirements of any good platformer are present here, featuring fairly tight controls and precise jumps and overall handling, making the experience feel skill-based and not luck-based.
To explore your surroundings, you're given the ability to pilot a small spinning device, the mechanical equivalent of a simple top, which you'll remain inside for the entire game. Since you're piloting a top, your movement speed is controlled by how quickly you manage to spin the bottom section, which is performed by tapping on the R2 button. This is my only big issue with the game, and I think it could have been improved upon by simply holding down the R2 button to rev up instead of tapping, which feels imprecise when you're trying to control your speed. You can alternate this by hitting a brake button too, but it's sometimes difficult to find that sweet spot needed to make certain jumps or transition from fast speed to precise movement in a matter of seconds. Perhaps someone more skilled with the game wouldn't have this issue, but since I'm a player of average skill, it gave me some unnecessary difficulty at certain points.
As you advance, Topatoi begins to open up a bit, slowly tossing in new scenarios and abilities. At first, you can simply control your top and move it about, making simple jumps and knocking down obstacles by simply moving into them. Then switches are introduced, usually so you can open or close doors, creating blocks that you can use to reach high platforms, and so on. Later you'll get the double-jump ability, and the idea of using fuel to power your top will come into play. Think of fuel as the game's version of coins, and you'll need to collect blue blobs scattered around the stage to keep your top going. The faster you spin or the more you double-jump, the more fuel you'll use, but in the long run, I never ran into a situation where I was going to run out of fuel. I dipped low on a few occasions, but there's so much blue stuff floating around the stages that I found my fuel levels to be a non-issue the entire time I played. It's a decent idea, but I don't think it's particularly well-implemented here.
Along with the fuel collection, each stage has a number of hidden stars to discover, and if you want to go for 100 percent completion in the game, you'll have your work cut out for you. Some of these are pretty well-hidden, and the number of stars seems to vary from stage to stage. While the main game isn't particularly long and you'll be able to finish it in three to four hours, finding the stars tacks on a bit more length; it's certainly a welcome addition, even if a variation of this is usually standard fare in most platformers.
Finally, outside of the main game, you have the challenge stages, which are a number of designed boards outside of the story that you can take on, usually involving collection or some sort of time trial. The challenges are fun to check out, and they slowly unlock as you complete more of the story-based missions. Also, the inclusion of online leaderboards makes it more interesting, since you can easily compare scores to friends or anyone else playing the game, and this goes for the story missions as well.
Visually, Topatoi doesn't have a great deal of variety between its stages, which is a shame, but I enjoy the look of the game. The characters and enemies aren't particularly complex, but they animate well, and the design of the stages appears to be well thought-out. The colors are bright and stand out well on an HD set, and I didn't notice any technical problems popping up. The music is also pretty good, but at the same time, I can't hum along or remember any particular track after I've finished it. It fits well into the peaceful setting of the game, but it's not impressive enough to stand out.
Altogether, Topatoi: The Great Tree Story is a fantastic platformer on the PSN and certainly a unique experience on the service. If you have access to a European account, then I suggest picking up the game now as opposed to waiting for the eventual release; it's certainly a great deal of fun to play. It might not be as polished as some of the classic platforming games that I mentioned earlier, but it does come off as a well-executed experience that's certainly worth checking out.Score: 8.5/10
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