The word “charming” gets thrown around a lot lately when describing indie games – usually in the form of a thinly veiled insult. “Oh yeah, the game was pretty fun I guess, it got boring quickly, but it was really charming!” Everyone’s guilty of it: you know the game is made by a small team, and it’s a lot better than anything you could ever do, so even though it isn’t that great of a game, you throw out a vague word that can be construed as a compliment – charming. Despite all of those connotations, I can promise that when I wrote my subtitle for this review, it was in fact, quite genuine. The Last Tinker: City of Colors is a charming, beautiful, and unique indie 3D platformer. Yeah, I said the c-word. Before things get too vulgar, let me tell you about this game. You see, I’ve not only gotten a chance to play a preview build of the game that you can watch me awkwardly talk about above, but I also sent some questions over to Mimimi Productions’ CEO, Johannes Roth.
There used to be a time in the game industry where everyone was making 3D platformers. From Mario and Banjo Kazooie, to Gex and Jak & Daxter, gamers got a hefty dose of looking at their character jump around all over the place in past generations. “Most of our team grew up with the classic Nintendo and PlayStation platformers,” Johannes Roth told me, in an email Q&A. “We wanted to revive this genre (in a modernized and updated way), especially by bringing back colorful environments and crazy characters.” Why is it that, with all our advancements in technology, the 3D platformer seems to have taken a back seat, especially in recent years? The Uncharted series and a handful of indie games are about all that’s left of this forgotten genre that used to dominate our gaming platforms.
As anyone familiar with the genre likely knows, these types of games are only as strong as the worlds in which they take place. Mario would be far less without the Mushroom Kingdom and the supporting cast is often just as important as the main hero as well. Whether it be a cleverly conceived gimmick with talking animals, or a gameplay mechanic seldom explored, there is always something unique about these types of character action games; The Last Tinker is no different. “We created the art style that uses organic shapes with rich, painted textures, cut-out cardboard elements and the like. Everything could be built with paper-mâché and the basic materials,” said Roth. “To create paper-mâché in the real world, all you need is color, paper and glue. So it only made sense to connect the gameplay with colors and from there it simply went on.”
Just because the game is full of bright and vibrant colors though, does not mean that it was created specifically with kids as the primary audience. “We think that The Last Tinker is as much for kids as Psychonauts, Banjo Kazooie or Jak and Daxter were,” detailed Roth. Those are some rather hefty names to live up to, but if all things continue along the path they’ve started, that might not be too far off from the truth. “While it certainly is very appealing to kids and can be enjoyed by them, it still offers a lot of fun for adults as well. There are a lot of underlying jokes in the game that kids probably won’t understand. Also, the story tells you much more than “save the princess”. We never designed the game to be for kids, and we are strong believers in the fact that also adults occasionally want to play something colorful instead of only gray-brown shooters,” a sentiment I am pleased to see more developers exploring. Dark reality isn’t a requirement for a game to be appealing both visually and on a gameplay level.
While my preview of the game was rather limited, exploring only about an hour or so of the game, I got a pretty good sense of what’s in store with the final release. Based on this build though, I can easily recognize that the focus will be a varied mixture of action, light platforming, and puzzle solving. The combat mechanics are rather limited on the surface, but actually hide surprising depth one you get the hang of fighting larger groups. Platforming on the other hand, maintains a fluid and shallow approach without even having a dedicated jump button. “, Koru – our main character – looks like a monkey, not like a fat plumber who you might recall from other games [smiles],” Roth jokes.
“He doesn’t need the player’s help to precisely land on pillars and quickly traverse through the world. It’s just what he naturally does, and he’s pretty good at it. For us it only made sense to keep the game accessible and its mechanics connected to the characters and their world. Therefore, the challenge revolves around timing and controlling Koru’s impulsive nature.” While I commend the developers for truly embracing the concept behind the character, I still feel restricted without being able to manually navigate my environment more freely. In the end though, I can’t say it’s a bad decision, since the game remains incredibly fun to play and a delight to watch.
My preview only contained a small handful of areas with very specific and linear tasks to accomplish, without much room for improvisation, but this won’t entirely be the case in the finished version of the game, as “There are certain areas that open up more than the levels in the preview build,” Roth detailed. “This is mostly connected to the hidden collectibles you can find and various Easter eggs, so you’ll have a lot of places to explore. You will also return to the Market District several times, an area that acts as a sort of a hub. The game is still linear in terms of progressing through the story, though.” For games of this type, a more directed and fleshed out experience is often better than an open ended one, especially since they are approximating about eight total hours of content.
I came away from this game pleasantly surprised. The beautiful visuals pulled me in and the trailer got me hooked once I saw how pretty everything looked in motion. Once I installed the game and took Koru for a spin on my own, I knew I had come across something special. While it may lack a lot of the bells and whistles of AAA titles (like fancy jump buttons) it makes up for it genuine (non-backhanded) charm.
Unlike some of the most popular games in this genre though, Mimimi is actually trying something relatively unique with the story and world on display in The Last Tinker. The City of Colors, a formerly unified and varied representation of the diversity in society, has devolved into a segregated and racist depiction of human nature. Characters in the world are herded into their different color groups as some treat others harshly at the start of the game, and it’s a poignant, albeit light hearted, take on race relations. However, it’s also about much more than that.
“We hope that people finish the game and understand the takeaway of the story: differences between people should always be appreciated, and never be fought,” explains Roth. “Which might sound like a simple message only connected to racism, but it actually applies to a lot of recent discussions throughout the world.” While it may not seem like a huge deal on the surface, when you realize