Developer: Whoopee Camp
Publisher: SCEA/MonkeyPaw Games
Platform: PSN, PS1
ESRB: E for Everyone
Release Date: Out now
Tomba! was a little game that came to the PSone back in the day and quickly became a cult classic. As it was a very creative, unusual sort of game it wasn't produced in massive quantities. Since then, the game has become a somewhat pricey title to obtain. Over the years it has increased in value beyond its original price and then settled back down around a reasonable $50-$60. What if you're looking to play a creative platformer but don't want to spend that much? That's where MonkeyPaw Games has us Tomba! hopefuls covered since they've now gone and released it on PSN.
Is the game still a lot of fun after all these years? Although it originally came out in the US in 1998 it definitely still maintains a lot of charm and is completely playable. In Tomba! you explore the world as a pink-haired caveman fellow. His goal is to retrieve a bracelet, given to him by his grandfather, that was stolen by evil pigs. Sure, that makes about as much sense as Tomba's pink hair, so why not? So the point of the game is to defeat each of these special pigs and retrieve your item but that's far from all that will be on your mind while playing.
The game is a platformer which at first seems like your typical 2D sidescrolling title but you'll quickly discover it's more than that. First off, you will discover that the game has a sort of foreground and background plane(s). By jumping onto objects which are in both sections you are able to go back and forth between the two parts of the screen. Sometimes there will only be a foreground and background, but other times there will be more you can explore in the back, like hills and other areas. As you proceed further you then discover that it's not just a 2D world with sections but that the entire landscape is 3D. At corners you may turn and suddenly see the camera move to show a whole other side of a mountain, building, or whatever that you hadn't seen before. Although we are certainly used to 3D games these days it is a bit strange to see something that at first seems 2D turn out to be a 3D experience.
For this unusual technical feat you might expect there to be issues but there really is nothing negative about them. The transitions as the camera rotates to show off a new angle work flawlessly and it's easy to understand where you're going. If anything, the camera movement might be a little slow or annoying after a while, but beyond that it's just fine. If there is one problem with Tomba!'s world then it is that you're forced to sit through loading screens fairly often when transitioning to other sections. These loading screens aren't particularly long, but you may still tire of them all the same as it's not something we expect to see often anymore.
Enough about tech talk though let's discuss what other interesting features this platformer has. For one, it is not a simple left to right adventure. Tomba's world may seem small initially but as you proceed onward you'll discover many distinct areas. These areas are not ones you just visit once and then never see again either. As you play you will need to visit earlier sections because new things may be unlocked or you forgot something. It might sound like annoying backtracking but as each area is mostly fun it isn't such a hassle. They're also not huge sections and if you don't want to have to wander a super long time, there is also an easy-to-get item which will automatically transport you between areas.
One of the most interesting things about the game is that it features many missions for Tomba to complete. Most are relatively simple like finding a key or retrieving a fruit, but a lot still manage to be clever. Beyond that, things are often not as easy as they seem because the game loves to have things a bit hidden off screen. This may confuse players who expect to be able to see every task. Those who are willing to explore a little deeper though will be able to complete each and every task without too much trouble. One thing that caught me off guard was how some missions which can't be completed until much later were hanging around earlier areas. It made me appreciate the fact that the developers made sure each level was distinct and interesting so you wouldn't mind visiting it multiple times.
Now let's talk about the writing, which is something else you wouldn't expect to be particularly strong in a platforming-centric title. The text in this game is fantastic. It's always fun finding a new NPC because you have no clue what they might say, or if they're a mission-giver. Regardless of their importance, every character says something and oftentimes it's humorous. The game may have been localized in the 90s but you can hardly tell. Tomba! is still funny now and quite enjoyable in that regard.
As for the actual platforming itself it still is very well done. It's good to see that the basic gameplay element wasn't lost in all the extras that were crammed into it. The game is pretty tough despite the cute look but that's something which should be expected with older games. Thankfully save points are plentiful because you'll probably find yourself dying a lot. There are also a nice amount of 1UPs to be found and ways to increase your health bar. Enemies follow predictable patterns and everything is laid out well so it's just a matter of honing your platforming skills before taking on a level.
Another positive for the game is just how much there is to it. Beyond the dialogue, creative world design, and everything else it simply offers a lot for Tomba to do. He starts off with only one weapon but you will soon unlock more things which change up his abilities. Some items will allow you to reach new locations while others will give you new methods of attacking. Overall, there's a great mix of stuff for Tomba to do and it's great fun to discover and then make use of them.
Tomba! can be a difficult game at times, but it is mostly just a very fun title from the PlayStation's past. Anyone who has ever been interested in the game owes it to themselves to pick it up. Even those who may have never experienced a PS1 should give it a look because it has aged well. The writing, visuals, and play all work together to make a great package. If anything, the game is a bit harder than we're used to these days but that's no excuse to ignore it. Tomba! is a fantastic game and is sure to bring a smile to a gamer's face.
+ Unusual 2D/3D world which is a joy to explore
+ Funny dialogue
+ Tons of missions to keep you playing
- Frequent loading times
- A little too tough for its cute demeanor
Overall: 8.5 (Out of 10)
Tomba! is known as a classic for a reason. Anyone looking for a creative platformer owes it to themselves to check it out!