There was once a time when you couldn’t move for colourful 3D platformers. Mario, Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, Rayman… There was even one where you played as a glove. When the GameCube, PS2 and Xbox stepped in, though, the dominance of huge-eyed hoppers began to wane, and that decline only carried on into the generation after until only the red dungarees remained…
Well, that’s a half truth. The platforming genre didn’t so much die as change. Those primary-coloured playgrounds were replaced with grittier scenes. Prince of Persia is one of the first I really remember, following Tomb Raider’s trailblazing idea that a “mature” game could be about acrobatics, and you can follow that growing influence up to the Uncharteds, Enslaveds and Assassins of the now. The Last Tinker: City of Colors is the cartoonish response to this trend.
To look at it, The Last Tinker is an N64/GameCube era platformer – meant in the best way possible – with its huge colours, kooky speech mumbled over text bubbles and fun art direction, but it’s very much a game of that era made with the concepts and influences of the now.
The Last Tinker has no true jump button, for instance, but it has a free run button that you can use to automatically traverse stepping stones or wonky platforms. Combat has the camera pulled out so you can batter an army of bleak baddies as they circle around you, with an emphasis on moving between enemies and mixing up targets to retain flow, very much in the fashion of today. It looks like a game of then, but plays very much like a response to the now. An anomalous mix.
The narrative is rather endearing, too. Playing as Koru (a monkey man of few faces who runs around with a floating piñata buddy, naturally) you’re cast as the titular tinker in a world where the people of colortown have grown distant. Reds are overly aggressive, Greens are shy and introvert, and the Blue spend their days all down in the dumps because everything sucks. They seem to exist, aggressively, in this manner until one day a great “bleakness” starts to spread, sapping all colour from the world as it does so.
Koru, as the Last Tinker, is tasked with finding and befriending the three leading “spirits” of the factions, tasked with using their powers to stop the cause of the bleakness. The game certainly paints its “all people of different colour unite” message plain and simple, but it makes for a pleasant tale nonetheless.
And The Last Tinker: City of Colors is a game that wants to tell its tale. It’s easy to think of games like Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64 when you see it (mainly because I put those games in your head, tee hee), but The Last Tinker has more in common with the Rayman line, in that it’s a linear adventure full of context-sensitive challenges, rather than a platform challenge sandbox.
This works to the game’s advantage, in that it’s focused and is able to do some interesting, cinematic things, but it also betrays some of its features. The Assassin’s Creed-like movement, for example, is hamstrung by the limitations of the purposeful level design. Indeed this is one of The Last Tinker’s weaknesses, in that much of it is terribly autopilot, and exploring its environments can feel a little restrictive.
There are golden brushes to find, but going off the beaten path is fairly frowned upon and largely impossible. Fly straight and narrow, young Tinker. Combat is heavily button-mashy as well. Oh, and don’t worry about death, you’ll just spring back up at one of the frightfully frequent checkpoints. There’s that “new” side of the game again…
But that’s me being picky for picky’s sake. Sure, the game isn’t as challenging, and its controls aren’t as involving as the gymnastic trainers I played growing up, but The Last Tinker is still a cute, well-made action adventure title. The powers you unlock as you recruit the spirits are droll to begin with, but the green spirit’s gift of letting you turn enemies into cowards, causing them to run headfirst into cacti, is a smirk-inducing medicine that we only see in titles like this, and titles like this are getting fewer by the day.
New powers give the tool set new permutations, and puzzles grow and become more complex as the game expands. It’s classic, tested stuff, but it’s all presented with an arts-and-crafts art -style that’s hard to frown upon and ultimately, even though the game takes a few too many leaves from the “new” camp for my liking, it’s a unique, nippy cartoon adventure with a lot to smile about.
VERDICT: The Last Tinker: City of Colors blends the aesthetic stylings of platformers past with design concepts taken from modern classics. While this meeting of the times may not be a constant success, there’s enough gorgeous art and frequent, snapshot ideas here to satisfy any gamer’s dietary requirement of primary colours.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.