Reviewed: March 18, 2006
Released: December 5, 2005
Tecmo is one of those few companies who donít release a lot of games and when they do they seldom stray too far from their core line-up of hits. So when they announced they were developing a new game for the PSP I immediately conjured up visions of buxom babes either playing volleyball or unleashing their own sexy brand of kung fu on each other or even snapping a few candid photos of some ghosts in another Fatal Frame installment.
Instead, we get Tokobot, a game so far out in left field that you have to stand up and take notice of it if for no other reason than we finally get something ďoriginalĒ. Itís so original; in fact, that I almost wish the game was available on the larger consoles.
There is no mistaking this game has its roots in Japanese design, starting with the atypical adventure who you will be controlling, and the wide-eyed orange and white robots he will be controlling. The Teletubbie meets Buck Rogersí Twiki design isnít terribly creative, but the gameplay rooted in exploration and puzzle solving sure is.
Tokobots are a mystery in and of themselves, having recently been found with an assortment of other Ancient artifacts that you, as Bolt, must seek out and catalogue. In order to discover just what these guys can do you get to take them with you on their adventures, unlocking new ways to use them in your exploration.
Tokobot might seem to be your average platform adventure game, but itís the robots that make this game something special. The first few levels will slowly train you in their various functions and more unique abilities will be added as you progress further in the game.
At the core are formations. You can line up your eight robot pals in single file either behind you or have four out to each side. You can also cluster them in a circular pattern around you. Depending on which formation you have the Tokobots in dictates the more advanced moves they can perform.
For instance, in single file you can use them as a whip to smack enemies out of the sky, or at certain magnetic locations you can use them as a vertical ladder, horizontal bridge, or even a rope swing. When they are out to the side you can spin the Tokobots around like a circular saw blade cutting through your enemies, and when in a circular pattern they can all jump up in unison to stomp on pressure plates or lift heavy objects up and move them around.
And those are just the very basic functions. You will also be collecting Karakuri parts that come in three colors. Youíll have collected numerous parts before you ever realize what they are used for. These are the ďresourcesĒ for assembling more complex Karakuri Combinations, or larger robots composed of your smaller Tokobots.
In one location you will assemble your Tokobots into a giant crane, which in turn starts a mini-crane-game where you must relocate blocks to form connecting circuits. Itís all fairly ingenious in its implementation even if the concepts are the standard building blocks of games weíve all played in the past.
As previously mentioned, you start off with eight Tokobots and it is possible to lose a few along the way, but itís a temporary loss, as they will eventually respawn. It can be annoying to lose one or two just when you need them and then have to stand around waiting for them to show up. Most ladders and bridge puzzles require all eight robots.
There are numerous levels and the game design allows you to re-explore previous levels with newly acquired skills. The good news is that in doing so you will amass great quantities of Karakuri parts. Each level has a traditional boss fight which range in difficulty but always follow the standard procedure of watching the patterns and learning the proper formations to defeat the boss in each of his attack stages.
The game is really good about checkpointing before bosses and dangerous areas so you never have to replay too much if you die, and there are altars where you can save your progress to the memory card several places throughout each level.
Tokobot is as charming to look at as it is to play from the Japanimation character designs of Bolt and Ruby to the innocent looking Tokobots. Conversation is all handled with text boxes and stylish character portraits and the menus and game interface all blend in nicely with the laboratory premise of the story.
The levels are surprisingly large and vertical in some areas, including indoor and outdoor locales. You have manual control over the camera when needed but the auto-camera was extremely efficient using locked camera angles that almost always gave me the view I needed. The only quirk is that your control is based on the camera so when the game takes over you can find yourself momentarily headed in the wrong direction.
Textures are reasonably nice fitting in somewhere between PS2 and Xbox quality, and the animation for Bolt, the Tokobots, and the enemies you encounter is simply delightful, in that Lemmings kind of way.
There isnít a lot of sound in Tokobots but what there is stands out, especially the jazzy soundtrack that keeps you tapping your toes as you explore the various worlds. Itís excellent quality orchestrated music that has some traditional Japanese flavor that fits perfectly with the gameplay.
Sound effects are pretty basic and you have the various sounds of the Tokobots forming up and attacking. Stone grinds on stone as massive doors open and shut, and there are all sorts of mechanical sounds for the machinery you interact with.
Sadly, there is no speech in Tokobots, so youíll end up reading the dialogue, but that is pretty much to be expected with these import titles. Iím sure the voices I hear in my head are probably better than what they could have come up with in a recording studio.
Tokobots isnít huge and most gamers can probably finish it off in 6-8 hours. There isnít much reason to replay the game; although you can re-explore previous levels using new powers you didnít have the first time.
Level design is linear and the puzzles are singular in their solutions so once you have beaten the game there is no pressing reason to replay anytime soon. Multiplayer, mini-games, collectibles, or anything really would have helped to boost this score.
Tokobots shows some real promise with a totally original concept that can be expanded upon for what we can only hope will be more adventures on the PSP and if we are lucky, the big consoles. As it is, Tecmo has creating something charming and unique that will delight PSP gamers who enjoy platforming, puzzles, or just playing around with cute robots.