Outside of Nintendo, there aren't too many developers focused on putting out a good 3-D platformer. It's very different from the halcyon days between the PlayStation and PS2, when games like Psychonauts, Spyro the Dragon, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, and Voodoo Vince were big deals developed by big studios. The genre landscape seems pretty barren, so developer Mimimi Productions decided to give it a shot with The Last Tinker: City of Colors, a big and bright 3-D platformer on the PC.
In The Last Tinker, the world of Colortown is where imagination thrives and everyone helps each other by creating materials. Recently, there has been some discord among the inhabitants of the cities, as the colored citizens have begun to distrust others and are segregating themselves. You play the role of Koru, the last in the line of Tinkers who lives in a town where harmony still exists among the different colored peoples. After unwittingly unleashing a force that will drain all of the color from the world, you must gather the spirits of color and unite the people to stop this malevolent force.
It won't take very long for players to notice how the plot tries to mirror real-life issues like ignorance and prejudice. For a game that seems intended for a younger set, these are some heavy themes. However, the developers have done a good job of just letting the issues permeate a normal adventure tale, rather than emphasizing them. The story also does a good job of promoting progression in the characters. The town bully may still be harsh in his mannerisms, but it isn't long before he starts helping you. The color spirits slowly transform from exhibiting only negative traits to balancing it out with their more positive ones. It isn't deep storytelling, but it's rather good.
The gameplay starts with an exciting set of basic abilities. Like any hero worth his or her salt, Koru is pretty athletic; he can run at a decent speed, climb every rope in sight, and take a fall from pretty great distances. He can leap onto any surface no matter how narrow or unstable it might be, and while he can't hang on ledges, he can walk tightropes without fear of losing his balance, and he is equally adept at grinding rails at top speeds. Combat is reminiscent of the recent Batman games, where Koru can handle groups of enemies via well-placed combos and dodges. He can also throw projectiles in some situations, making him equally adept at ranged and melee combat. It is certainly more action-oriented, and while the move system isn't very deep, it works.
Things start to get deeper when you obtain special powers from the color spirits. Not only do the colors lend themselves well to the colors of the control pad's face buttons, but they also correspond nicely to emotion. Red represents anger and is the most basic way you can attack creatures. Things get more interesting once you get green; if you hit enemies just right, you can cause them to run away and into thorny bushes. Later on, you can use this power to freeze time for some interesting platforming sections. Then there's blue, which lets you freeze enemies in sadness and acts as a barrier to protect from anything related to bleakness. The addition of those last two colors mixes up the combat, and the fact that each color can be used immediately without switching means you can employ some interesting tactics to make combat more fun, especially toward the end of the game, when you have all of the powers.
Things get deeper still when you take into account a mushroom friend with transformative powers. His adult form as Biggs inherently gives him massive strength that's augmented with the color he's hit with. Red makes him stomp the ground, which is perfect for switches. Riding him while he's green makes him plow through fragile structures, and hitting him with blue makes him clear out any bleakness-infected areas. By contrast, Bomber is his smaller form, so he's also portable. He can be summoned to your spot by whistling. You need to be close for him to follow you, but that's his only drawback.
As a platformer, The Last Tinker has a solid grasp of the basics. Powers are doled out at a good pace, so there's plenty of time to experiment with one set before another set must be mastered. There's a nice balance between combat, puzzles and platforming, so neither section drags on for too long. None of these encounters is dreadfully tough for genre vets, but a few sections can present an initial challenge, so the target audience will find it just right. Despite this, the developers found the time to throw in some smaller sections with completely different gameplay mechanics, including rhythm and stealth. They aren't exactly fleshed out to the point where they are overwhelmingly exciting, but they work well enough due to their inherent brevity and the unlimited lives.
There are a few things that the game could work on, though. The most obvious thing is the sense of weightlessness in the Koru's movements. The controls feel good, but seeing Koru walk looks odd, almost like a stunted run. Moving from platform to platform and jumping also looks too effortless, and the constant sliding between enemies belittles the impact of the moves being performed. Speaking of jumping, the lack of a jump button is an odd thing to have in a platformer, especially when manual jumping can only be performed during rail sliding sections. The alternative of having one button perform all leaps while it's held down is equally puzzling. The game may be aimed at younger players, and it takes away some of the frustration from what could be some tricky jumping sections, but it still feels too easy for those who have some experience in the genre. Finally, this is the kind of game that only feels right if you're using a gamepad. Not only are some of the commands awkward with a keyboard/mouse setup, but the keys also can't be remapped.
One of the more striking things about the game is the graphics, which look similar to LittleBigPlanet. The environments are brimming with color, and even in sections where things lack obvious color, the appearance feels cheerier than most games. The world is stylized with lots of round shapes for the hills, but the texture work makes everything feel like they're made of painted rocks. Cardboard is also present, and while the corrugation on the edges isn't as sharp as Media Molecule's game, it is present in more places, like trees and dialogue bubbles. The obviously painted-on nature is charming to see.
Almost every character is a stylized animal, with Koru looking like he stepped out of The Monkey King series, red inhabitants looking like chameleons, green inhabitants looking like tiny turtle-rabbit combinations, and so forth. They look great, but they could use more work in the animation department so there's some weight to their movements. The frame rate stays at a constant 60fps except when you're crowded by lots of enemies or viewing crowded vistas. At that point, the game engine stutters a bit to hold everything together. It isn't debilitating, but this was reviewed on an Intel Core i5-3550 with a Geforce 760 with graphical settings at maximum, so your mileage may vary depending on your setup.
Another element that is done right is the sound, particularly the musical score. Most of it is acoustic, with the guitar being the prevalent instrument, but the score covers plenty of moods, from foreboding to adventurous to folksy. It does a great job of conveying the right mood and is one of the better soundtracks the genre has had in a while. The voices take a page from a few Rare classics in that they're mostly squeaks and other unintelligible noises instead of speech, and your protagonist lets his companion do the talking for him. It might not be something that's appreciated by all, but I liked it. The effects need some work. Most are fine, but some of the moves are accompanied by complete silence while other maneuvers don't have the expected hard impact. The musical score does a good job of hiding this, but once you reach an area in complete silence, it becomes very noticeable.
The Last Tinker: City of Colors is a solid 3D platformer. If you can forgive the somewhat weightless feel of Koru, the platforming is exciting to watch, and the combat is smooth enough for what they're trying to accomplish. The balance between fighting, platforming, and puzzles is just right, and the progression toward new powers and abilities is paced well during the eight-hour adventure. The adventure looks and sounds beautiful, and it's just long enough to not overstay its welcome. For younger platforming fans, this is a very solid title on a platform that doesn't have too many 3-D platformers nowadays. The Last Tinker is definitely worth checking out.
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