Colorful but a bit too familiar.
As someone who loved 3D platformers when they were in their prime, HD collections always excite me and then leave me a little sad. The prospect of playing those games again is fun, but then I actually play them and am reminded of how far game development has come in recent years. The Last Tinker: City of Colors was especially intriguing to me because it’s a modern take on those games, an old school style built with modern tools. While it definitely feels like those games it doesn’t really improve on them, and showcases more of the old than the new.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Koru is the last tinker, the only one who can save Tinkerworld from the Bleakness, an evil force robbing the world of its color. In order to do this Koru must first unite the different color factions and gain the use of their powers. Each power gained adds to his combat arsenal, providing new combat options and allowing him to take on harder enemies.
Platform: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Length: 6-7 hours
The combat in The Last Tinker is deeper than what I would normally expect from a 3D platformer, and plays more like Batman-lite than Banjo-Kazooie. Koru will leap from enemy to enemy to continue a combo, and the different powers he gains can be used to change up combat strategies. The game features both melee and ranged attacks, and special attacks that can be used after a meter has been filled. It wouldn’t be considered particularly deep in other genres, but here it’s a nice change of pace.
In practice, the attacking is fine but the dodge is sluggish, and I was better off dodging after a few hits no matter what, because if I waited for an enemy to start an attack I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. It doesn’t help that one of the first unlockable moves requires a button press very similar to the dodge, so I often wound up executing that by accident. That same sluggish response shows up in cargo rail sections of the game, where Koru grinds on a rail to traverse long distances. Rails have obstacles that need to be jumped and he must occasionally switch to another rail to avoid crashing, but between the speed of the rail and the slow jumping those sections usually required multiple runs, until I had memorized where everything was.
The Last Tinker calls itself a platformer, but that’s a pretty loose use of the term. There really is no traditional platforming, as there’s no real jump button. Most of the traversal is done by holding down the run button, which will make Koru hop from ledge to ledge or swing from hanging branches, Assassin’s Creed style. It works fine, but most of the time I was just pushing the left stick forward and holding R2, waiting for him to get to his destination. There are some parts that required timing, but most just felt like I was on autopilot.
When I go back today to play 3D platformers of the past, the things that stands out the most are the sections where those games lean away from their core design and venture into areas that aren’t their strength. Sadly, The Last Tinker falls into the same trap, most notably a stealth section where the annoyance is only trumped by the bad design. In short, stepping off the path makes noise and is an immediate fail, but in order to see the path I had to be close enough to a guard holding a flashlight for them to see me (also an instant fail). It’s an exercise in tedium and repetition that’s only saved by some decent check-pointing, and the game would have been much better off without it.
The visual design of the Last Tinker is really nice, and it’s a very colorful game. There are a lot of subtle touches, like the 2D speech balloons, that I really liked. While it’s nice looking though it’s nothing revolutionary, and there’s no apparent reason for its poor performance on the PS4. The frame rate can dip dramatically at times, but most of the time there was just a jerky sensation as I was running around or panning the camera. Koru can (and does) get trapped in the environment, but the game has a not very well advertised reset option that drops him at the last checkpoint. Most notably, it has the dubious distinction of being the first game to crash completely and dump me back to the PS4 main menu.
The Last Tinker is not a bad game, just one that fails to live up to its promise. Graphics aside, there’s not much to distinguish this title as being made in 2014 instead of 1998. For all of my incoming enthusiasm, the whole time I was playing I had the same feeling I have with those older platformers – that my memories of the game are better than the present reality. The problem for The Last Tinker it that those aren’t memories – this is a new experience that immediately feels dated. For fans of the genre it’s a decent choice (ideally at a reduced price), but the experience is more about nostalgia than progress.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.