The year was 1998, and three-dimensional perspectives dominated all major video games during the late 90s. Sony took a gamble and decided to publish the newest IP from the creator of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, titled Tomba!, a "2.5D" side-scroller. In a time where similar titles of its time like Klonoa: Return to Phantomile and Astal failed commercially, Tomba! had also met the same fate, despite the critical acclaim from media, and fell even further into obscurity as time went on.
Zip back to 2012 -- Monekypaw Games finally answers the call that’s been shouted from loyal fans across the nation since the introduction of PS One titles hitting PSN, and rereleases Tomba!. The question now stands on whether or not the game survives the test of time after twelve years while demanding your space bucks, and whether pink hair can make a trendy comeback; this review will answer at least one of those questions.
Taking a loose approach in its amalgamation of the concepts involved, Tomba! at its core is a Metroidvania title, but one with 2.5D branching points that only increase the potential of exploration twice fold. Something of that caliber sounds intriguing in theory, but even the slightest imperfections can completely ruin the execution; this is not the case with the PlayStation classic. Mechanics are brilliantly managed through an effective and varied blend of basic exploration and questing objectives that exchange incentives for new areas and/or abilities. Tomba! has you fulfilling objectives you find through interacting with the various NPC’s, or even the environment itself, as you take on quests with nothing more than a suggestive title that will be added to your list of many others as you progress.
The variety in the quests is surprisingly refreshing. You’ll find yourself completing more than just fetch quests for characters or areas, but rather focuses on an event system, which triggers other areas contextually. Specific circumstances are fulfilled from other events or quests, bringing the entire experience together and making the world feel alive.
Level designs reinforce the vibrant tones of the living world by elegantly balancing exploration and platforming. Though jumping aspects are fairly traditional with your standard bottomless pits, or vertical scrolling with complimentary hazards, it’s the manner of how these elements blend together that make your travels so engaging while exploring different quadrants. Jumping mechanics are spot on in terms of hang time and precision leaps, but the physics unfortunately don’t boast the same kind of polish. Hit detection is fairly flawed with finicky interaction towards wall grabs, and swinging posts especially. As you’re swinging, you’ll find yourself needlessly falling down again and again before you either move on or die, which is the only hindrance on an otherwise solid platforming system.
Combat works simple enough. You have the option of stunning enemies with a number of different weapons possessing different strengths and weaknesses, but work mostly to stun your foe and/or you can pounce on your enemies via direct contact from a jump. Jump attacks will start a grapple, which gives you control over your enemy through a submission, in where you then jump again, throwing them in mid-air, and can work to eliminate additional mobs as you cannonball their hapless comrade right into their flank. The AP serves as both the system of tracking game completion progress based from completed quests and events, as well as well as Tomba's attack strength. Leveling Tomba through AP gain furthers his access to events or quests requiring a certain amount of AP to be completed. Later on, these AP gains determine what kind of equipment Tomba is able to use, and add to the metroidvania element of the game when chasing possible routes or objectives.
Even though the game is technically sound for its intended concept, the real draw of Tomba! is the undeniable charm, and unending sense of whimsy in its presentation and world. Characters range from the 100-year-old wise man to a village of gnomes requiring Tomba’s fondling embrace in order to learn their hidden language. The cast and setting succeed at never taking themselves too seriously, and continue entertaining. Bright environments serve to please every facet of nostalgic aesthetic of the game’s past. From rendered graphics to textured polygons, Tomba! sets its own motif for visuals that give it the same sort of timeless appeal cel-shading once provided through its own quirks and charm.
While pink hair may never catch on beyond some stupid gimmick in a Lady Gaga video, Tomba! remains to be one of the finest examples of video games to this day, even despite some noticeable flaws with physics. The polish put into every other aspect makes this software a must-own on any current Sony device you own (for bitching Vita owners, please realize Sony will eventually patch Vita with PS One game support).
Press Pause Radio's Vintage Play focuses on the retro age of video games. Whether it’s special podcasts, editorial, or even reviews, when you see the mark of Vintage Play, you can expect a trip back to the time of plastic cartridges and CD-ROMs (which makes us realize we’re old as shit).