My gaming schedule of late has largely been dominated by worlds of gritty (read – grey) realism in the shape of Thief, Batman Origins and Daylight. I’m sure you can therefore appreciate that I was hugely keen to get my hands on the full version of The Last Tinker, especially after playing around with its preview build a few weeks back.
I’m going to cut to the chase right away with this one because, if you’re already interested in the look of this game, there’ll likely be one question standing between you and a purchase – “has an indie team really made a new 3D platformer as good as those from the 90s?” The answer here is unequivocally that yes, they have indeed.
If you’ve not come across the title before, The Last Tinker tells the story of Kuro, the chimp-like Tinker of the game’s title and his side-kick Tap. Kuro must save his home, the aptly named Colortown, from the threat of an evil force known as “the bleakness” which saps the world of its colour. To do this the pair must seek the aid of three colour spirits representing the world’s main races. Each spirit and its people are prone to certain behaviours which usually cause conflict (the hot-headed Red Lizards are infuriated by the cowardice of the Green Rabbit people for example) so Kuro and Tap quickly fall into the role of peace-makers as it will take all the races working together to stop the bleakness from destroying their world. Besides delivering a unique message for this style of game it gives the writers the chance to come up with some wonderful moments. A particular favourite of mine was the bickering between the Red Spirit and his Green counterpart leading up to the game’s stand-out moment where you ascend an enormous windmill. In doing so, you help the Green Spirit overcome his crippling fear and rediscover a thirst for adventure. The pay-off for this treacherous climb is a gorgeous vista stretching out before you which will have many players reaching for the Steam screenshot button.
Everything about The Last Tinker feels like a full studio release from the era of Donkey Kong 64 or Jak & Daxter, not the work of a 9-man indie outfit from Germany. The visuals really are gorgeous and, through some clever use of effects, give Koru’s world the sense that it really exists as a claymation adventure playing out just behind your monitor’s glass. In fact it regularly exhibits touches of Aardman’s sense of humour in much of the game’s animation. There are times when it’s simply impossible to play The Last Tinker without a large smile on your face.
Sound design is also worthy of note with its clever use of gentle folk guitar adding a whimsical quality to proceedings. The music does much to set the game apart from other platformers and if Mimimi make the soundtrack available to download, I shall definitely be making a purchase.
The game does occasionally fall foul of its own ambition though. By implementing a free-running mechanic rather than the traditional “press A to jump” system, you’re reliant on knowing the correct route you should be taking in order to make progress. Sometimes it’s really not clear what is or isn’t an acceptable path for Koru and this can lead to a few frustrating deaths. I also experienced a couple of occasions where the grinding failed to activate correctly which also resulted in death. Thankfully these occurrences are quite rare and plenty of checkpoints are littered throughout the world meaning failure is seldom a real issue.
You’ll also need a little patience to get to the real meat of Koru’s adventure as the first hour is a bit of a disappointment in truth. Through trying to cram in quite a large number of tutorials as well as introducing the world and its characters, Mimimi find themselves with an incoherent and, in places, downright annoying, start to their game. It really is a poor reflection on the rest of the game which is never less than entertaining throughout and wonderfully paced.
Combat, for example, comes across in the opening tutorial as overly simplistic. Get a little further into the game though, and you’ll find it is a somewhat toned-down version of that found in the Batman Arkham series. Standard attacks and counters form the basis of the system, but you can then spend points at the game world’s hub to unlock additional moves. You also unlock certain abilities through rescuing the Colour Spirits who lend Koru their powers once they themselves re-awaken them. Mimimi have been very clever in balancing the fights so they’ll be easy enough for younger players while including plenty of depth for those who want to dig deeper. You’ll even come up against opponents who require a specific move to defeat them later in the game, which adds a nice puzzle element to the encounters.
Everything about The Last Tinker serves as a reminder of just how good the 3D platforming genre can be when done well and it’s a tremendous shame that these adventures are in such short-supply these days. What we have here is not only an amazing love-note to those lost gems from a bygone era, but an astoundingly confident title from a small indie team. So confident in fact, that they throw in large amounts of their beautiful concept art and even cheats as unlockable content to be found in the central hub. I can’t remember the last time I found a game with a God Mode for example, so I’m not ashamed to say that I almost squealed when I found that this one does. Ultimately, The Last Tinker stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the classic games that inspired it and comes highly recommended as the perfect antidote to all the grey, gritty tedium that dominates the industry today.