The puzzle platformer hasn't been very popular, but it has been around for quite some time. Games like The Lost Vikings and Krusty's Super Fun House were early examples of platformers that emphasized brain-teasing instead of enemy-stomping. Thanks to the surge of indie games in this console generation, the puzzle platformer is making a big splash. One indie game to ride that wave is Tiny and Big: Grandpa's Leftovers, which has a good concept that performs well most of the time.
Like the title, the plot is a bit absurd. You play as Tiny, the good grandson who was bequeathed a pair of underpants by his grandfather. Though an odd heirloom, the underpants were believed to have some strange powers. Just as Tiny is about to stow the garment in a safe location, his brother Big stole them and took off for the desert. Wanting what is rightfully his, Tim and his robotic friend The Radio give chase.
Since this is a puzzle platformer, you'll never have to mow down enemies or be surprised by them. Instead, you'll solve puzzles with the help of your three tools. The grappling hook lets you latch on to moveable objects and drag them toward you. Rockets can be attached to objects, allowing you to push them with greater force. You can use the laser to cut down objects to clear a path, create new pathways or cut something into smaller pieces.
A majority of the game is spent dealing with puzzles, though the puzzles involve gaining access to new areas. Most of the time, you'll cut things down to size and reposition them to make it over a chasm or create a makeshift stairwell to change elevations. The physics-based nature means that you'll be forced to use the rockets and grappling hook to push and pull things. Occasionally, the monotony of cutting and moving is interrupted by fights against Big, where you have to cut down his projectiles and platforms to knock him down.
That's the one big issue with Tiny and Big. With all of the tools at your disposal, all you really do is cut things and move them out of the way or create faux bridges. There's a wealth of possibilities with these three tools, but the game reduces it to one or two activities again and again, so it's a bit disappointing. As a result, the short game length (roughly four hours, depending on skill level) doesn't seem that bad since it prevents boredom from setting in.
Even with that limitation in mind, the title manages to be a fun experience because of what you can cut down. Just about everything you see in the game is susceptible to laser cuts, with only a few exceptions. Size doesn't seem to matter, either, giving you free reign to modify anything you see. It's addicting to try to cut and move everything in your path, so you don't just have one way to approach a puzzle. That freedom lets the time slip away as you can unleash your creative and destructive sides on stone heads, walls and columns.
The only other annoying issue is Tiny's fragility. He can only take one hit before dying, and he can also die when falling from great heights. Fans of old-school games will recognize this as being reasonable, but the problem is that Tiny seems to get killed by just about everything. Getting squashed by a large rock or hit with a flying boulder is fine, but he seems to die when he's tapped by any object. The only time you can get hit by something and not die is when you touch a boulder that used to be airborne, and even then, you're dizzy and disoriented for a while — usually long enough for you to fall victim to a flying boulder. The numerous deaths are a big blemish on the game because it feels like death can come from nowhere.
The game handles its two types of collectibles in an interesting way. The first is audio cassettes, which expand your soundtrack with new music from independent artists. The music is instrumental with little to no vocals, and it provides perfect background music for your journey. The second type of collectible is the ordinary rock. Each of the levels, except for the final one, has rocks scattered throughout, and the number in each level varies. Collecting the rocks only serves one purpose: granting you achievements. Nothing else gets unlocked, so the appeal of finding all of these rocks will be limited to achievement hunters and those with OCD.
Graphically, the art style pushes against what most people expect from indie games. The 3-D world may consist of nothing but desert and a dark neon-lit set of rooms, but the colors stand out due to the cel-shading. The outlines give it the feel of an indie comic book, while the character designs look like they could be rough sketches brought to life, something that looks more endearing than disgusting. From a technical standpoint, the game runs smoothly on pretty low-spec hardware, and the rather high frame rate doesn't drop when lots of things are happening on-screen. For an engine that was completely done in-house, it speaks wonders of its power.
The sound is also good, though it's a bit more flawed than the graphics. The game sports no voices save for a few grunts here and there, but you don't feel like you're missing out on the humor inferred by the dialogue, which is presented in text. The effects are fine, but the real star is the music. As mentioned earlier, the music is instrumental, and it fits in well with the game vibe. The musical playback is where things get problematic. Since you have to find the tracks, players who can't be bothered to look for more music will hear the same tracks over and over again until the game forces them to pick up a new tape. Even then, the game has a tendency to shut off the music, so don't be surprised if you wander through most of the game with nothing but ambient noise because the game forgot to turn on the musical soundtrack again.
Tiny and Big: Grandpa's Leftovers is a good, but not great, indie puzzle platformer. The tools make puzzle-solving fun, and the subtle humor really accentuates things. The look and sound are also great, so that'll surely surprise people who think indie titles are mostly 2-D pixelated affairs. While the game length would be something to gripe about, the real complaint is in the lack of puzzle variety. The experience is worthwhile, especially at the $9.99 digital download price, so players who enjoy a good puzzle game should certainly give this one a shot and hope that the development team will provide a future installment that's more involving.
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