During my last article on the rise of the humble demo in the gaming world, I happened across a memory of a game that not many have played, and even less have heard of. A game that is so rare, and has such a cult following, that original copies of it sell for around £60 or more on eBay. This title is of course, the incredible Tombi!, which is known as Tomba! in the US and Me! Tomba in Japan (in possibly one of the most unnecessary renaming during localisation I have seen).
Released back in the late 90s for Sony’s Playstation console, Tombi! would have probably slipped by unnoticed if it weren’t for the fact that a demo of it appeared on Demo Disc 07 distributed with Official Playstation magazine. This demo was wildly popular owing to not only it’s length (the demo of Tombi! took a least a couple of hours), but owing to the fact that it was a very solid and addictive title. The fact that it spawned a sequel was a sign of it’s overwhelming positive response, however the title sold poorly and it’s developer, Whoopee Camp, went out of business shortly afterwards.
This had led to original copies of the game becoming very rare, and the aforementioned cult following building. So, being one of the lucky ones who played the original game (but have lost the original copy in all their house moves over the years), I was delighted when I saw that Tombi! had been released onto the Playstation Network as a download. Playing the game through again has given me massive amounts of joy, and has reminded me about the sheer insanity of it all.
The premise of the title is that you are playing as Tombi, a pink-haired caveman in shorts, who is on a quest for defeat the Seven Evil Pigs (and seal them in Pig Bags) because they stole his grandfather’s bracelet. So far, so crazy. But, it is this tongue-in-cheek insanity that makes up most of the charm of the game, from the cartoonish colourful graphics, to the weird and wonderful characters, everything has been given a huge amount of attention.
Tombi! actually plays like a dream, a simple 2D platformer with only the jump and action buttons really being used at any point. Even the enemies are defeated by simply jumping on their heads, then throwing them around. One of it’s most interesting features is the ability to move between the foreground and the background in some areas, which has to be done to progress at several points to either find an item needed to clear a way, or to take a more forgiving route through harsh terrain.
The progress through the game is tracked by missions; there are 130 missions in total in the game and although some of them are entirely unnecessary to progress (but are still great fun to play), every single mission gains you Adventure Points (or AP). AP is used, throughout the world Tombi! is set in, to open special AP boxes (which contain more AP and often special items), and is entirely needed to progress through the game. Some of the missions set for you can take only a few minutes to complete (like carrying a frog back to it’s pond), but some can take hours (such as the prolonged game of Hide-And-Seek you play with another character throughout most of the game).
The visuals in Tombi! have admittedly become a little dated over time, however they still perfectly match the title itself and do not detract from the overall quality of the game. The bright and colourful areas range from your starting area in a beautiful forest, to a shrine and even a dwarven village. All of the areas in the title have some incredible (and clever) set-pieces including pink marshmallows polluting a forest (which you have to get rid of to find missing dwarves), rotating platforms that respond to any weight on them, including the water running through the ceilings. Possibly my favourite of these set-pieces is an area containing platforms that rise or fall depending on whether Tombi is laughing or crying (a state that can be changed by eating nearby mushrooms).
I can’t really write about Tombi! without at least mentioning the music, which is some of the most infectious and cheerful music of my entire history of gaming. I am even sitting here right now, writing this article, humming the song which plays during the first few hours of gameplay. It is such a simple tune, which successfully encompasses the overall emphasis on fun in the game, whilst being entirely (and wonderfully) applicable to the ‘caveman’ style era in which it is set. Playing Tombi! will undeniably cause the song to become stuck in your head, I would go as far as to say that it is the first title with music this infectious since the original Mario games.
I think that you will have probably gathered by now that I quite thoroughly recommend Tombi! and would suggest it as a game that anyone should play. It’s a solid adventure that lasts for hours, has a clear emphasis on enjoying yourself, can be incredibly hard in places, and it is such a shame that not many people have played it. However, now that it has found it’s way onto the Playstation Network, I would strongly urge all those with a PS3 to give it a try, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Have you played Tombi! before, or are you playing it now? What do you think of this forgotten gem of a bygone time? Drop me a comment below, or tweet me @reubenmount. I would love to hear of people’s thoughts on this incredible game.