Review: Toki Tori 2+

Before you download Toki Tori 2 from Steam there are two things you will see, and they both tell you more about this game than a review ever could. That makes this review a bit of redundant exercise but let’s crack on regardless.

The first is the description:

Toki Tori 2+ is a Metroidvania style puzzle adventure. There are no tutorials, there’s no hand-holding, no-one tells you what to do in Toki Tori 2+. The fun is in exploring and overcoming the obstacles of the lush forest island on your own merit.

The second is the title. Toki Tori 2 isn’t actually called Toki Tori 2. It’s called Toki Tori 2+, which makes it one of the most appropriate game titles I can think of outside of Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad. That little plus symbol means so much. It tells you that this isn’t just a sequel. It’s not just more puzzles with more tools and more levels. It’s larger and more unknown than that, so much so that a mere number doesn’t communicate it sufficiently. It’s also minimalist and communicating more through wordless inference than words ever could, making it a wonderful little extension of how the game itself works.

I used the word “you” up there and again here. I’m not going to use that word again after this paragraph. This isn’t the kind of game where I can tell what you think, or what you might do when you play. If and when you play, you are just another toy for the game itself to play with; same as me. This is an ‘I’ game, because my Toki Tori 2+ is all I can imagine. I probably figured something massive out long before you did. You probably figured something massive out long before I did. The differences to the game which could result from that are brain-aching to comprehend.

The term in the description I quoted – ‘metroidvania’ – that’s an interesting term. Here it’s sort of misleading but also sort of true. When I started the game I went right, because I couldn’t yet go left. Now when I return to that same area I can go left. So far, so metroidvania. Thing is, Toki Tori hasn’t gained any abilities that he didn’t have when we started. I do though. I’ve got lots of new abilities, but they’re all in me – things I’ve learned as I’ve played through the game. If I started a new game from scratch, I could go left instead straight away.

Toki1

This is going to be a hard review to write because I want to keep descriptions of the gameplay to an absolute minimum. Right down to the very basics, the joy is in figuring it out. The game feels the same way. At the start it displays an image of the Z key and the X key, and that’s the extent of the explicit information it’s willing to part with. Everything else comes via inference, experimentation and thought.

I figured out a crucial mechanic as I was walking home last night. It was, for me, actually one of the game’s few frustrating parts. There was an element I thought was a bit fiddly, and another element I thought was a little unfair and poorly designed. The game seemed to make exceptions to its own rules as and when it needed to and I didn’t appreciate that.

Then yesterday it clicked: that scene – the fiddly one – that was a sort of tutorial for the next bit, only I didn’t get what it was trying to teach me. Then the bit where the rules changed for no reason, that didn’t make sense to me because the tutorial went over my head. Now it makes sense. Still can’t get past that bastard puzzle, but at least I get what I’m doing now. Nevermind, I’ll get it. Or if I don’t get it soon enough for my patience to hold, there’s plenty of other areas to explore first and I’ll come back to it later.

I got so confused by a particular puzzle a few days ago that I thought I’d reached my limit. I hate looking on the internet for solutions to puzzle games, but when I’m so stuck that there’s seems to be no other way of progressing sometimes I just have to. I soon discovered that an extra side-effect of Toki Tori 2+ being so mysterious and non-self-descriptive is there’s no way to get help online. No-one knows where they are. No-one knows what they’re looking at. I’d have to trawl through hundreds of hours of YouTube videos in the hope of getting to the bit I’m stuck at, and because once they’re past the first hour or so everyone does it in a different order, I can’t even predict roughly where to look in someone else’s playthough.

Here’s a typical Toki Tori 2+ forum post:

xxSniperLoveMurder84xx

HELP!!! I am so stuck. I’m in an area. There’s a purple thing on a wall, some things below me and a shining circle above me.

xxSexDeathGrenade85xx

I think I might know where you are. Do you see a thing in front of you?

There are no more comments in this thread.

I really like that I can’t cheat. That puzzle I talked about that lead me to go online? I figured it out. I had to, there was no other choice.

Toki3

The biggest problem for me so far has been expectations. I knew that this was going to be a very different experience to Toki Tori, a game which I adore. However, I still expected it to be more similar than it is. There was never any doubt that this is a much better game. It simply is the superior product; it’s a unique and exciting work of art. The original is ‘just’ a straight-up fantastic puzzle game. But I still love the original so much that I wanted the sequel to scratch those same itches and feel a bit more familiar.

The moment when it clicked was a beautiful one. It is scratching those same itches, and it is familiar. It just took me some time to get my head around the wonderful way in which this game takes those old mechanics and reformats them for an open world game. Of course in hindsight it’s easy to look back and think I was stupid to ever imagine that the old-style levels could ever exist in a useful way with the new style of gameplay. Everything had to change to accommodate the new direction, and it just takes a little time to realise that. When I started I was excited to get my hands on some cool tools. Then I began to realise I was never going to and felt a little dejected. When I finally realised that I’d had all those tools from the start, but in a much more interesting way, I felt like a chump. Chump or not, that moment was when it all came together.

I haven’t finished Toki Tori 2+. I don’t really want to write this review after I finish it, partly because I have no idea when that might be and I want to share my excitement for it now – not in two days, two weeks or two months – but also because this game is about being in the centre of it, not looking at it from the other side. Right now I still don’t know what half the things on the island actually do, which is exactly where I want to be and where the game is likely to be at its most enjoyable.

Recently I figured out that a seemingly generic element of the art direction on the pause screen is in fact a measure of how many things of a certain type I’ve found. I now have one of these five things and it’s completely changed the game. Not for the first time; there’s plenty of other discoveries I’ve made along the way that have accomplished the same result. But I know that there are at least three other of these things to get, and I have no idea what they might do. The anticipation is a beautiful thing and so is being halfway through my game of Toki Tori 2+.