The Last Tinker: City of Colors ReviewJoe Shaffer
The Last Tinker: City of Colors exudes creativity. You can see it as you enter the game's world, comprised of what appears to be myriad arts and crafts projects that form everything from trees to houses. Even dialog boxes, which appear within the environment, manifest as floating pieces of corrugated cardboard. Glorious colors also pour out of every corner and crevice, giving the game a wonderful, lighthearted mood. Suffice it to say that it's difficult to not remain cheerful while in The Last Tinker's domain, which is precisely what I expect from a title aimed at young adults.
On the surface, the game is your average adorable platformer. You play as an anthropomorphisized monkey who uses his agility to avoid perils, collect gems that serve as currency, and occasionally engage foes in basic combat. The difference, though, in comparison to other such platformers is that The Last Tinker prefers to streamline its mechanics rather than focus on austere concepts like pinpoint precision or tricky maneuvers. For instance, leaping from one ledge to another is not a matter of timing a button press and landing perfectly. Rather, you hold one of the shoulder buttons and the protagonist automatically hops to the nearest platform. Of course, if you're not careful, you could end up "automatically hopping" into, say, a body of water or a turning gear, which isn't good for your health.
As you may have guessed, the game is pretty breezy and all the better for it. It's possible to traverse many of the offered levels without taking much damage or even perishing, which cuts back on the frustration factor. Although this might sound boring, the truth is that the game manages to remain adventurous, even exhilarating at times, because of its wonderful stage designs. Levels are not merely straightforward paths from one point to another, but feature branches and hidden regions holding collectibles. You'll find a variety of tasks to complete as well, including rail grinding, puzzle solving, and even some brawling.
Personally, this is where I found the game most enjoyable. I loved grinding rails whilst quickly avoiding thorn bushes and damaging signs, or plotting out how to utilize an NPC named Biggs, a large humanoid mushroom, in order to solve riddles. That usually involved having him stomp on a button or plow through a wall, but also included transforming him into a pint-sized version of himself named Bomber and stuffing him into a pipe so I could use him somewhere else.
My favorite scenes, though, occurred at the beginning and end of the campaign. Not to discredit the middle, but the opening phases really set the game up nicely, wherein the protagonist Koru inadvertently aids a sinister force known as Bleakness. This results in his home, Colortown, being overrun by a gelatinous white substance that threatens to drain the city of its vitality. After the antagonist reveals itself, it sends you into a dream realm, where you must dodge immense white tentacles and avoid what appears to be gleaming, pearly starfish bearing dozens of dead-staring eyes. You'll eventually wind up in town, fighting for your life against gangs of monsters called Bleakies while escaping a tidal wave of white goo that has already engulfed hordes of citizens. It's a fast-paced, exciting introduction, and one that impressively melds some Lovecraftian ideas with the game's charming atmosphere, the two working ironically in tandem.
My only qualm is a difficult one to address: combat. I wouldn't say that battle in The Last Tinker is broken, per se. It's stable, easy to pick up and master, features a few intriguing concepts, but ultimately lacks in a few areas. For one thing, it's great the game provides you with a few color-based powers that have neat effects. For instance, the "green" punch sends foes fleeing, sometimes causing them to run into thorns or off cliffs, where they instantly croak. The "blue" attack paralyzes your opponents with sadness, allowing you to approach them from their posterior and finish them off with killing uppercuts. At the same time, these cool features present a tiny problem. The game features a pretty good array of foes, the diversity of which doesn't matter when you can dispatch most of them with a shot or two using either green or blue status ailments. Also bear in mind that there is no limit to the number of times you can nail your enemies with status effects, which takes the sport out of facing "tougher" creatures. Overly large Bleakies, for example, don't pose much of a threat when you can dispatch them just as easily as their tinier, weaker cousins, which makes their inclusion seem pointless.
Just the same, it is nice to have uncomplicated fights, as that allows you to be done with them in a hurry so you can move on to the next exciting string of events. Honestly, you don't spend enough time fighting to experience much fatigue, but at the same time bumping into a scuffle can feel like a real bummer when you realize that altercations are the low points of any level.
The Last Tinker makes up for banal brawling with an effective storyline. The game may not play out as an enthralling human drama, but it hits enough of the right notes to be delightful and worthwhile. Mostly, it's the supporting cast that helps bolster the tale, from the not-so-intrepid Bluebeard, a semi-cowardly sailor, to the eccentric Doc Brown, an engineering genius who crafted a marvelous security system in one sector of Colortown. What's appreciable about these characters is that they aren't overly silly. Sure, there exhibit some humorous qualities, but nothing about them smacks of the kind of cheesy, forced hilarity seen in modern children's films. These are characters with whom you can somewhat identify, and whose experiences are relatable to everyday life. Bluebeard, for example, feels he failed his father by acting cowardly. We all experience that kind of disappointment in ourselves at one point in time or another, which may resonate with a number of players. At the same time, Bluebeard's conflict is not so complex that it diminishes the game's liveliness or creativity, as can be seen in some of his complaints. "Oh, the sluice is closed. Time to give up!" It's chuckle-worthy to think that someone so determined to do right by his parent would be stifled by an issue with a simple fix. As McBain once said, though, "That's the joke."
The Last Tinker: City of Colors is a wonderful title for youngsters. It's an imaginative piece that dares players to dream rather than sending them down the same old pathways that other titles aimed at kids--i.e. licensed software--seem to be unable to break away from. It's unfortunate that the film and games industries are still behind in respect to how they market their products to younger consumers. They seem to think that familiar brands and thoughtless antics are enough to entertain all kids, and forget that we need to stimulate the newer generations rather than barrage them with constant vapidity. The Last Tinker is a step in the right direction in that respect. While I don't expect adapted shovelware to disappear any time soon, I do hope that developers will at least consider producing more titles like The Last Tinker in lieu of cranking out "generic platformer starring contemporary cartoon characters #74834."
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.