Toki Tori first made its debut over ten years ago on the Game Boy Color. Back then, puzzle platformers were not a big market, but the title still managed to attract a decent following due to all of the charm Two Tribes packed in. After a few remakes, lessons, delays, and improvements, that little yellow bird is back in Toki Tori 2 for the Wii U. To be honest, the Wii U has been through a drought of originality as of late, so this sequel could not come at a better time. Does Toki Tori 2 deliver enough to fly high on the fairly new platform, or does this digital offering fall before takeoff? Let’s find out.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about Toki Tori 2’s story, as…well, there isn’t a lot to speak of. You play as a small bird by the name of Toki Tori whose home has been invaded by oil spills, leaving his family in peril. Our hero then sets out to save the day, proving that bravery can come in small packages. Just speaking of it makes this game seem like a cute little Disney film, doesn’t it? Yes, this title does its best to put on a charming display, and it achieves that for the most part by utilizing the in-game mechanics to do so.
You see, there is no text in Toki Tori 2 whatsoever. No dialogue, no cutscenes, and no standard menus. This bird needs none of that, as the game gets across it’s little narrative through the animations and actions of the little creatures and environments within. It’s all very visual and intelligently designed, as even though there were no words to go along, I felt like I received a fully painted picture of who Toki Tori is and the motives behind his bravery. You know the term “art game”? I would almost classify Toki Tori 2 as that, but it’s gameplay is so raw and meaty that it’s hard to do so.
I want to put a bit of honesty on the table and let everyone know how clueless I was as I started playing Toki Tori 2 for the first time. This title has you play as a small, yellow bird who lacks the ability to jump high or attack any enemies. You do have full control over the small bird, but in this game, it’s all about exploration, survival, and using the environment to your advantage to progress. It sounds simple, but without a text tutorial, the player will have to learn everything on their own – as I found out the hard way.
During one of the first portions of the game, I was waddling about when a large blue bird came out of the sky and took me back to her nest. Every time I would attempt to leave, it would catch me out of the corner of its big, beady eyes and swoop down again, forcing my little bird back into this unwelcome territory. I spent a good thirty minutes trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and even restarted the stage at one point due to my confusion. Of course the same issue re-occured, and while I was enjoying the visuals and music for Toki Tori 2, I was beginning to feel frustrated. Eventually, I noticed a small walking berry. Yeah, you heard that right. I waddled over to the berry and performed a whistle, quickly running into the tall grass due to my fine, feathered friend making chase and then…it happened. The bird swooped down, snagged the berry, and placed it in her nest – allowing myself the time to quickly run by unharmed. I know that is a bit of a story for such a small event, but that is the moment it all clicked. That is the very second the brilliance started to shine through for Toki Tori 2, and it was just the start of this unforgettable little journey on the Wii U.
I mentioned earlier the term “raw” to describe the gameplay within Toki Tori 2, as there really is no other way to describe it. Sure, Toki Tori 2 is a platformer, but you will not be getting anywhere without performing some type of environmental puzzle. As an example, the player walks up to an unreachable ledge. Nearby sits a frog, and a small walking berry. To get up to your destination, you would need to ground stomp to make the berry fall, lure the frog over to the berry by chirping, and then watch as the frog consumes the berry and becomes bloated. After that task is complete, a quick ground pound will cause the frog to burp up an air bubble, capturing Toki Tori inside and hoisting him to that once out of reach ledge. There are no hints or pointers in the right direction. This is a game about experimenting to find your answer, and that is what makes the rewards of solving a puzzle so great.
Our little yellow buddy doesn’t have a large movepool, but he is far from helpless. A non-threatening ground pound can be performed to trigger movement other creatures or break through shallow floors beneath you. The chirp – or Toki Tori’s lovely singing voice if you will, is where the most interesting mechanics within the game can be found. With a tap on one of the face buttons, Toki Tori lets out a chirp that shows itself as a music note. Multiple tapping will produce multiple notes. While these have no physical effects, the sounds will attract other animals and get the attention of birds flying above or frogs hopping down below. Consider your voice as a lure. If you need a large bird to carry you off, you can stand out in the open and start chirping madly to get its attention. If a bloated frog is looking the wrong way, a small note will make it turn at you so you can be bubbled up in the appropriate direction. It’s a small feature that has a grand purpose. Making matters more interesting is that these notes actually can be used to activate features that would normally be found in the menu.
Depending on how long you hold a note and the order the chirps are in, extra features can be accessed at any given time. For instance, one melody can let the player restart from the last checkpoint if they are stuck, while another will show the player where the next golden pieces are located. There is also a song for fast travel to previously visited locales, but my most used tune was the one to summon the Tokidex. Instead of hunting down collectibles, Toki Tori can summon a bird with a camera that takes pictures on important objects and creatures. Once snapped, a new photo will show up in this little catalog, so as an extra objective, it is your job to take a photo of nearly everything you see. Enhancing this feature is the Gamepad, which acts as a camera, allowing the player to aim and snap their desired shot with greater ease. It may sound a bit gimmicky, but it does work quite well and the whole “collect them all” aspect does a lot to give incentive for replay value after you have finished the main quest. Speaking of Gamepad support, the player can also run the entire game off the controller with off-TV play, where they will get a delightful little graphic of Toki Tori instead of the full experience on a television set. Again, it’s not much, but those small touches go a long way to make Toki Tori 2 feel like a very broad experience.
As you have noticed, I kind of fell in love with Toki Tori 2. Yeah, he is a charming little character and the puzzles are certainly clever, but it’s the level design that really gives the game its own unique feel. You see, no matter where you are, you are never truly restricted to where you can go or how you can progress. Nearly every puzzle produces a feeling of open-endedness and levels could definitely be described as having a “Metroidvania” like design, but with a much tighter focus. Progression simply flows due to this choice of design, and without text or your typical pointers and hints, it all progresses quite naturally. Remember when you beat that stage in Super Mario Bros. 3 and had to go back to the overworld map to get to the next stage? Well, there is an overworld in Toki Tori 2, but the transition between stages flows so perfectly that it feels as if our little bird never stopped waddling along. Each area sets up the next, and your choices of direction effect where you end up.
Visuals and Audio
Visually, Toki Tori 2 is a gorgeous game. Filled with bright, bold colors that run in full HD at 60 FPS, exploring this world is just as fun as learning the trickery of the puzzles within, and this trek through is filled with a good amount of varied landscapes such as red hot volcanoes, cool and dark caves, and the already bubbly sunny jungle areas that are sure to be like candy for the eyes. Animations are also well done – and in a game where gestures mean everything due to the no text gimmickry, it’s fantastic to see that Two Tribes were able to pack so much charm into such small creatures. It’s not just the characters and colors that make the game so pleasing to look at though, as the animated backgrounds bring every area to life and do their part in making every area feel like it is bursting at the seams with personality and life.
Toki Tori 2’s soundtrack kind of has different phases depending on what level you are on. One moment everything will be happy as a sweet, cute melody plays to display a chipper atmosphere. If danger is ahead or a setting like a dangerous cave has been entered however, the music takes a turn for the dark, but oddly keeps it’s sweet little quality to keep the player feeling upbeat and warm. It would take a cold heart not to smile at Toki Tori as he whistles out his own little tune, and seeing that small little feature so greatly intertwined with the experience puts this sequel miles above it’s still solid predecessor.
I went through several personal stages of emotion with Toki Tori 2. The first feeling as you probably read was a bit of frustration, followed by excitement, and then just a warm feeling of joy as the game progressed forward. Most “puzzle platformers” have a divide between the two genres, stopping one side of the mix to alternate between the other. Toki Tori 2 is polished perfection in terms of that however, as every puzzle is built for progression and the open 2D level design flows so naturally that there never has to be a stopping point – leaving the player with a pure and authentic gaming experience. The Wii U may be lacking in software during these early days, but Toki Tori 2 comes as the first true gem of the console, delivering both excellence and charm in an effortless fashion. While it still may be a hard sell on those who lack the patience to let the “no text” gimmickry click, Toki Tori 2 is one of the best reasons to dust off that Gamepad as it currently stands as one of the Wii U’s finest releases to date.