QCF: Toki

n somewhat of an ironic twist, one of the fondest memories I have with video games from my childhood isn’t a video game that I played on my television, but a show that I watched on my television about video games. As the 16-bit boom kicked off the nineties, Nickelodeon debuted Nick Arcade—a new game show that embraced the gimmickry of its video aesthetic with the grace of cat walking along a floor made of bubble-wrap.

While the show has only gotten hokier with age, it was vital for a Challenge segment that showcased some of the hottest new games in action on my television screen, something no issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly or GamePro could ever do, and one of those games was Toki: Going Ape Spit.

In a climate that was undeniably overwhelmed with action-platformers, Toki managed to stand out from all of the other classics that were lined up for the show with its bizarrely unattractive, yet colorfully sharp visuals, and surprisingly delicate balance of action and strategy for an arcade shooter. Decades later, the lumbering primate has suddenly slouched his way back into 2018 with a remastered remake of the arcade classic that mostly considered to be vaporware at this point, until the development of it was taken over, and then released by a French developer and publisher Microïds.

Aside from its 15 minutes of fame on fame on one the highest rated shows of the most watched kid’s TV network at the time, Toki fell back into obscurity almost as quickly as it rose from it—living on as a cult-classic with a legacy that was only whispered by a handful of fans as time went. Honestly, it begs the question; in a period where games like Spyro, and Pokémon, are getting a new paint job, is Toki really a game that even deserves a comeback? Rest assured, it would seem that the developers certainly took that question to heart, and the answer is a resounding yes

Originally announced by an independent studio by the name of Golgoth Studio, the remake of Toki was announced back in 2009, being advertised for nearly every digital game storefront, and much to the dismay of everyone who took notice, news of the game’s impending 2011 launch quickly faded into the ether. With no real update, or statement given on the status of its development for years on end, until suddenly, almost as if by magic, Microïds (the folks behind the Syberia series) had released a press statement that they had acquired the right to the project, and planned on releasing no later than winter.

In what may have already seemed like a recipe for disaster, the title thankfully shows no signs of its storied development hell within the final product, as it was never clear where exactly Microïds had picked up from where Golgoth Studio had left off on the game.

The eye-catching visuals of Toki’s hand-drawn sprite-work are just as fluid as they were when the title was first announced, if not more so. The exaggeratedly cartoonish art direction successfully breathes a new sense of personality into the freakish cast of characters the classic was famous for, as each enemy and obstacle in the Toki’s six stages are all animated with the same sort of strange, yet charming saunter of the arcade original, faithfully enhancing the beloved weirdness of trademark presentation. The same can be said for the music, as all of the dulcet, yet memorable jungle beats are rearranged with a subtle approach to the instrumentation that doesn’t blare out of your speakers like an obnoxious YouTube house remix.

Apart from these improvements though, the gameplay of Toki is faithfully kept in line with that of its predecessor. The sluggish, heavy-footed walking speed, and oafishly floaty jumps of the primate protagonist was infamous for is back in full effect, being the primary mechanic that set Toki apart from other side-scrolling shooting contemporaries at the time. The player’s listless movement speed forces them to blast their way through a frenetic course of baddies and hazards while moving at a clip that’s arguably ten times slower than everything else moving in the stage. As unappealing as they may sound, the shooting of this arcade shooter derives most of its challenge from its dynamic, and it’s able to do so wonderfully with level design that rewards tactful gunfire, and evasion with reactionary elements that excellent compensate for the title’s otherwise dawdling pace.

As faithful as the remaster is though, this 2018 remake doesn’t offer a whole lot in its package beyond its charming eye-candy. Toki, for all of its strengths, still had plenty of weaknesses, and this remake had plenty of potentials for Microïds to tap into for a modern release. Such potential like a Two-Player cooperative option, or an arranged mode, with new bosses and power-ups in the same vein that SEGA’s work with the Sega Genesis port of the classic—hell, even an unlockable version of the original arcade would have been neat considering that it’s never received a full-fledged console re-release in its entirety. Unfortunately, none of that’s here—this remaster only has the core game, and 6 difficulty options to play with, and absolutely nothing else to mess with. It really is a shame considering how many other retro remakes like it have endeavored to include quality of life improvements that make the game more accessible to younger crowds who didn’t grow up with them in the past.

In spite of the bare-bones package, this remake of Toki is certainly still worth a look, especially for those who remember watching it from home, and thinking that they could have totally crushed the Wizard’s Challenge had Phil More had picked them to take on the video challenge. It’s worth a download or trip to your local game grab it on the Switch first if you have one, otherwise, you’ll have to wait till the end of the year for it drop everywhere else.


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