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Toki Tori’s an Egg-Cellent Puzzle Platformer

You can’t always win on your first try. That’s the lesson of Toki Tori both as a gaming experience and as a product. Originally released in September of 2001 on the Game Boy Color, Toki Tori was one of a handful of excellent titles that had trouble finding a big audience on a platform whose successor, the Game Boy Advance, had already arrived. Fortunately, its developer Two Tribes didn’t just give up on the game after that. People who did play it loved it. Perhaps it was just a matter of getting it to the right platform.

Thus, Toki Tori took to the sky and eventually nested on several platforms including the Nintendo Wii, the PlayStation 3, and of course, mobile devices. Each time, the game got a little bigger and a little better. By the time it first hit mobile platforms in May of 2009, it had new levels and a much more refined presentation. A valuable lesson had been learned and the result was put into practice. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Things start out pretty straightforward in Toki Tori…

It’s a lesson that people who play Toki Tori would do well to remember. While the game’s colorful presentation makes it initially come off as a somewhat breezy arcade-style action game in the vein of classics like Taito’s Bubble Bobble, Toki Tori quickly reveals itself to be something a bit more methodical. There are moments where you’ll need quick reflexes, but it’s far more important to be able to think through each stage’s layout and come up with a solution that will get you everywhere you need to go.

Sometimes the answer is obvious, but the further you get into the game the trickier it gets. It likely won’t take long for you to make your first big mistake and find yourself stuck. In most puzzle games, this is where you would have to restart the level from scratch, and you certainly can do that in Toki Tori if you like. But Toki Tori has an additional feature to help you backtrack on any little errors you may immediately regret. A simple tap of the button rewinds time, allowing you to retrace your steps and pick up from wherever you’d like.

This is of course contingent on you actually knowing where you went wrong, which isn’t always going to be the case. Still, it’s the kind of feature that fits a game like this perfectly. It’s almost a mission statement about how the game is going to treat the player. You’re going to have to find your own way to solve the puzzles, but the game isn’t going to punish you for making mistakes or trying out long-shot ideas. It’s not out to get you. It wants to see you succeed. 

… but over time you’ll get more and more powers, like this portal…

The puzzle designs are also built quite firmly in this spirit. The difficulty curve is rather gentle, and new concepts are clearly communicated to you. Each new set of levels introduces a new ability and some new powers, but the game is happy to teach you about them before moving on to the business of testing you. A fair challenge, in other words. You don’t have to be a mind-reader to figure these puzzles out, but you may need to follow a few false leads before hitting on a proper solution.

It’s never a bother, though. There are so many new ideas sprinkled throughout Toki Tori that you’re always getting to play with something interesting and novel. Sure, a lot of that playing around will get you into trouble. But it’s nothing that a quick rewind can’t solve, so play away. Every wrong move will push you towards the correct one, so even if time isn’t moving forward for our little heroic bird, the player themself is growing and developing their skills and knowledge. 

… and a freeze gun! We won’t spoil the rest of them — that’s part of the fun!

Toki Tori isn’t just well-designed from a mechanical standpoint. It’s also a gorgeous, incredibly charming game in terms of its presentation. The main character has a certain innocence to it that makes you sympathetic to its cause, but just enough determination in its design and animations that you believe it can win against these wild odds. Each of the worlds is colorful, detailed, and distinct. You can really get the sense of the scale of the little bird’s journey to save its family. On top of that, the soundtrack is rich, varied, and all-around inspiring. Forest Falls feels vibrant and full of hope. Creepy Castle is ominous and somehow stirring all at once.

It’s a game about overcoming adversity that wants you to succeed, a truly fair experience with roots in an era where such things weren’t common. That’s perhaps one of the big reasons why Toki Tori has been able to connect so well with many different kinds of players over the years. How can you turn down such a friendly and fluffy game when it reaches its feathery wing out to you like that? A rare mix of tough puzzles that somehow still feel relaxing, Toki Tori is a wonderful game you won’t want to make the mistake of missing out on.


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