The Last Tinker: City of Colors Review
The Last Tinker: City of Colors is one of those games that begs to be loved. In turn, you desperately want to love it. You’re attracted to its many charms; its rambunctious color, just this side of gaudy, keeps you interested in what amounts to an interactive kaleidoscope. Everything is cute. Even the bad guys are cute. You enjoy the combination of streamlined platforming movement and fluid combat, trying to forget the fact that “platformers” are supposed to have a jump function, and the fighting is little more than a repetitive button-mashing bout.
In the end, though, you come to the conclusion that this game, despite having the best intentions, is simply underwhelming. It’s aptly named, of course, as the vibrant color palette permeates every corner of this vivid presentation. I actually found the environment to be a tad too busy; it was like I was wandering through a world where gypsies and circus people procreated for about a century. It’s also worth noting that the graphics aren’t as crisp or refined as I would’ve liked, as the environment and detailing can appear decidedly fuzzy or out-of-focus. Still, you can’t help but be attracted to such a charming style.
Same goes for the sound: It’s cute and charming and as such, it’s difficult to find fault because it fits the game’s theme. Each creature speaks with a pretty little squeak or coo or grunt; in other words, you read all the dialogue. The soundtrack doesn’t quite do its job, though, as I would’ve appreciated a wider array of more involving tracks. The music seems content to take a backseat to the eye-popping visual display, and I think that was a mistake. On the plus side, everything fits. The technical elements are mostly stable and while not necessarily sublime, they combine to create an enticing, if not enrapturing, experience.
You play as Koru, a boy who looks mysteriously like a young monkey. You live in Tinkerworld, which was once rife with color and general good feeling. Everything is comprised of paper and glue (hello, Tearaway) but several problems threaten the cheerful, happy-go-lucky existences of Tinkerworld’s inhabitants. First, while they were once unified, they have now split off into separate districts, each housing a particularly colored civilian. In other words, the Type-A Reds live there, while the always dreary Blues live over there. It’s a thinly veiled and unnecessary social commentary but whatever, I get it.
The other problem is that The Bleakness has invaded. It’s basically a paint-remover of sorts, as it destroys the color in Tinkerworld. If he wishes to be the savior, Koru must find the color spirits and battle The Bleakness. The adventure is mostly linear, with a few small opportunities to explore and find a few goodies, and you’ll travel through a variety of relatively well-designed lands. Each district has a distinct style due to the inherent nature of the colors that live there, so you don’t have to worry about repetitive levels and set pieces. Basic control is simple, the pseudo-platforming is accessible and responsive, and the combat won’t give you any problems.
That’s the optimistic interpretation of the gameplay. I wish I could just stick with that and call it a day. Unfortunately, the more you play, the more you realize that not much changes, and you’re stuck with a barebones game that never really flourishes. First and foremost, the developers advertised this as a platformer and really, you can’t call it that if there’s no jump feature. Koru will automatically jump if necessary and while he can fall and die, it doesn’t mean much. This is one of those scripted, hand-holding “platformers” that's obviously designed for a younger age group. And that’s fine; it’s just not what I was expecting, and it makes the game feel bland.
Secondly, the combat: It works, but that’s about it. It’s actually not dissimilar to the fluid freeform fighting you saw in the Batman games from Rocksteady. The Last Tinker is obviously the opposite in terms of presentation and the enemies are almost too cute to beat upon, but the similarities are obvious. Koru can quickly switch his targets mid-combo, which is pretty cool. The problem is that this is about all he can do. He can charge his attack and eventually, he earns a skill that stuns his foes and makes them retreat in fear. But these do little to flesh out the fighting mechanic and in the end, you’re basically just mashing buttons for the majority of the game.
I will say that despite the lack of a real jump option, the platforming at least evolves over time, unlike the combat. It’s not difficult but it can be quite rewarding, as you have to consider your timing and direction. Obstacles will pop up in your path, blocks may sink beneath your weight, and you might have to perform a hurdle or ledge-shimmy. These sections become longer and more intricate as time goes on, and while you still have the hand-holding, the platforming remains the highlight of the gameplay. I just wish they had done a lot more with the concept, because it just doesn’t seem robust enough.
The developers do try to toss in some stealth and puzzle-solving to mix things up, and that’s admirable. But the stealth doesn’t amount to much more than avoiding enemies; there’s no special takedown skill and no set of gadgets or tools. The puzzles aren’t complicated but they might be perfect for younger players. And I guess this leads me to the sensible conclusion that in fact, this game will be most appreciated by kids. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that; I was just expecting more. Besides, even kids will probably notice the repetitive combat and under-featured gameplay segments. It’s a game that functions quite well but it doesn’t aspire to much beyond functionality.
The Last Tinker: City of Colors is like the nicest kid in school. He’s not the best athlete or student; he’s just nice and because of that, you want to like him. To some extent, you do. But he still isn’t picked first in gym and he doesn’t ace all his tests. This game doesn’t aspire to great heights and that’s the problem. Then again, for the right audience, it might be a great distraction, and one that can even prove engaging and satisfying. There’s a lot to like here, I promise. You might even be able to overlook most of the drawbacks. But for the most part, this game wasn’t made for the older, avid gamer in mind, so take that into account.
The Good: Bright, vibrant, overall charming presentation. Easy, accessible control. Decent pacing and balancing. Nice blend of action, platforming and puzzles. Appreciated variety and level design.
The Bad: Graphics can appear gaudy and overdone. Combat mechanic is repetitive and barebones. Story is predictable and uninspired. Generally unimpressive throughout.
The Ugly: “So much cuteness eliminates the possibility of ‘ugly.’”
8/21/2014 Ben Dutka