I had the privilege of playing the preview build of this charming little title The Last Tinker: City of Colors and it sure seems to tackle an interesting combination of gameplay elements thrown in with aesthetics I can appreciate. The preview-build basically consisted of what I imagine is the tutorial-area of the game itself, so the amount of story-, world- and character-building was understandably fairly low. You might not first catch it, looking at the colorful environments or goofy characters, but something strange is afoot in Tinkerworld, a world where anything can apparently be built from “basic materials as long as the idea behind it is strong enough”, in practice this means a world build with color, paper and glue.
As a very hard to miss metaphor for racism, the City of Color has been divided because creatures of different colours have started hating each other. The story is bound to go deeper and my educated guess comfortably lies somewhere between an ancient evil turning good emotions into bad emotions or some greedy, evil character being behind everything. It is the job of the monkey-like kid Koru and his best small flying elephant-looking plush friend Tap to solve this mystery and return the colours to Tinkerworld.
After you start the game however, it quickly becomes apparent that while the story is enough to keep you going, interest any child and generally to not annoy, the real driving force behind the game is in fact the aesthetics. The masterfully composed music builds on percussion and guitar, creating everything from warm and welcoming sounds to surprisingly intense tunes. The environment is something I have sorely missed during the last generation of video games. The Last Tinker uses the same catch as Paper Mario and Kirby’s Epic Yarn where instead of realism, the environments look like they have been made by hand with materials one could find in a arts n’ crafts shop, in this case cardboard, paper, paint and crayons. Everything is brightly coloured and the character design reminds me of Viva Pinata, which is most definitely a compliment. The environments are absolutely gorgeous and the amount of colors and smiley things makes me want to vomit rainbows in a good way. The clever choice of aesthetics successfully hides the feeling that this is an indie game made by a small team.
While the developers claim The Last Tinker to be a “platformer”, I would have to respectfully disagree. The gameplay is built on three main aspects; puzzles, brawling and platforming. The puzzle-system lends itself for plenty of challenging and entertaining puzzles, though it’s a tad uninspired. This is not the first time we’ve seen the system of leading followers and changing their shape or size to get them from point A to B in order to solve a puzzle. But it’s a system that has been proven to work well and in the hands of talented level designers it’s easily used to create fantastic puzzles.
The fighting system includes a dodge button and an attack button, so it’s fairly simple and easy. It’s similar to the Batman: Arkham-franchise, where you punch your enemies and dodge out of the way of their attacks in a free-flowing fashion. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the system and it feels good and easy, though in a game that’s 1/3 brawling, I was hoping for a bit more depth. I saw no special moves and the “countering-system” consists of basically just punching an enemy before they punch you. The preview-build seems to be the very beginning of the actual game, so there’s a chance of an upgrade-system, AOE-moves, running attacks or interesting boss battles appearing later in the game, though there was no sign of such things in the early stages of the game.
The reason why I’m having a hard time thinking of The Last Tinker as a platformer is that while it is one of the three gameplay elements this game seems to be pushing, the platforming is very barebones. You jump by sprinting towards a ledge; there is no dedicated jump button. This makes all platforming segments repetitious and easy. It’s an excuse to get you to cool locations and to create some secret places where collectibles are hidden. The only time when you need skill while platforming is when you need to time your jumps. When there are no threats out to get you, you can basically point where you want to go and Koru will freerun towards it. There are also rails you can grind or slide on a la Ratchet and Clank. They are a fun excuse to go fast through the beautiful landscapes and offer a bit of variety to the platforming. A dedicated jump button would’ve given the level designers a lot more freedom in creating challenging, fun areas blending the three gameplay elements together.
If the rest of the game successfully blends these three gameplay-elements together in continuously breathtaking and varied environments, as the preview-build suggest, this will end up being a fantastic little adventure game for children and adults alike. Run around a semi-freeroaming world collecting currency and collectibles, punch a dude, solve a puzzle, jump on things. It’s a system that can work very well in the hands of talented designers. While none of the three gameplay-elements can hold up a game on it’s own, together they make for a fun and reasonably varied experience that –if handled well- will definitely entertain through it’s reportedly 8-hour runtime.