Saturday 23 July 2011

Tobe's Vertical Adventure (PC)

If I had to sum up my experience of playing Secret Base's recent addition to the Tobe (& Nana) franchise in three words they would have to be charming, endearing and frustrating. The former two adjectives describe the game's visual appeal, gameplay and premise, whereas the latter represents how I felt several times during my play-through the game due to the occasionally inconsistent controls and minor bugs spoiling what is otherwise a fantastic platformer. However, I really hate to sound ungrateful, (especially as Ray was kind enough to mail me a pre-release review copy) so before making a critical analysis of the game's few shortfalls, lets first cover all the stuff that Tobe's Vertical Adventure does right.
Tobe's Vertical Adventure sees you play the role of Tobe or Nana (or both in co-op mode) on a quest to recover lost treasures from 16 different caves (spread across 4 different worlds). In each cave you must first descend to the bottom, navigating past traps and hostile critters, collecting jewels and rescuing trapped animals until you finally reach your goal - a large treasure chest. Opening this chest initiates an earthquake, and then it's a race back up to the surface through a now reconfigured cave layout before the timer runs out. There are balloons and ropes scattered throughout the caverns (to assist with descent and ascent respectively), and multiple ways to beat each level. It's a simple concept, and as a whole it works really well.
Although it is possible to play on your own, the single-player experience pales in comparison to the excellent co-op mode. With each character having their own benefits (Tobe is more agile, whereas Nana has a useful double-jump), they work really well together and as a result the game instantly becomes far more enjoyable when played with a friend.
Tobe's Vertical Adventure is rich with an authentic nostalgic atmosphere and style, with gorgeous artwork throughout and a cheery soundtrack that verges on, but never quite becomes irritating. The well-animated sprites are full of life, and after playing the game for a couple of hours I felt a real attachment to Tobe and Nana - unlike many throwaway game heroes/heroines they are genuinely likeable little characters, and it's probably this that pulled me back to the game time and time again despite it's flaws.
So where does it go wrong? Well, first and foremost the controls feel a bit clunky, even when using the Xbox360 controller (for which the game was originally designed).  As an example, there are times where you'll come across ropes strung across each other and it is incomprehensibly tricky to move from climbing vertically to horizontally. Similarly, there's one part in world two that actually caused me to rage-quit the game; a vertical rope that passes a section of ceiling with vines hanging from it - and EVERY TIME I tried to climb up I'd be sidetracked onto the vines instead. When you take into consideration that I was on my ascent out of the cave against the clock, repeatedly getting stuck in the same place over and over was more than a tad frustrating. Likewise, the collision detection can be a bit iffy; on a couple of occasions I was actually pushed outside the playable area and into the wall by closing doors. Annoying.
Also, out of my three PC's the game refuses to run properly on two of them, despite meeting the listed system requirements. I think that it's because of the screen resolution on the two older machines - as far as I can tell Tobe's Vertical Adventure doesn't automatically change the system resolution to match the dimensions required by the game. However, on the plus side I have noticed that updates via Steam seem to be quite regular, so hopefully some of these initial problems will be fixed - but it's still probably a good idea to try out the demo before parting with your $5 to ensure that it runs on your set-up.
Negative points aside, Tobe's Vertical Adventure is a great little game that I've really enjoyed, and I hope that the franchise continues in the future. Completing the 16 caves and various achievements will take a fair bit of time and effort, and even the more jaded and critical gamers out there will find it hard not to fall in love with the two game characters. With a little more finesse and testing this would have been awarded a top rating from me, but as it stands at the moment it gets four out of five Atari joysticks. Recommended.
4 out of 5

Download the demo or buy the game here (from the Steam page).

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