The Last Tinker: City of Colors feels like a natural evolution of the once-thriving 3D platformer in numerous ways. With a healthy emphasis on personality and creative world-building, and less of a focus on the standard ‘collect-a-thon’ gameplay style that caused the genre to become stagnant, this is one of those games that, despite a few drawbacks and a lack of hype when compared to other indie releases, is going to please and surprise many people looking for a fun experience that doesn’t involve guns or fast cars for once.
Taking place in the land of Tinkerworld, the game’s story centers on a monkey-like citizen named Koru and his small, pinata-like floating companion Tap. The city of Colortown, where most of the game takes place, is divided into color-coded districts with similarly-shaded denizens in each one, such as the hotheaded lizards in the red district and the timid rabbits in the green district. It doesn’t take long for the game to establish that, due to differing attitudes and lifestyles, the districts generally keep themselves isolated from one another. In other words, this is the first platformer I’ve played that contains a message of tolerance, and thankfully, it doesn’t feel too overplayed nor too understated.
A chain of events after the tutorial section leads Koru to the discovery that he is a Tinker, one of a select few with the ability to gain special powers from the elemental spirits that represent each district’s color. When a pale force known as the Bleakness starts draining the hues and life itself from the land, Koru and Tap set out to defeat the hordes of monochrome enemies it spawns, explore all of Colortown, and bring beauty and order back to the land.
Though The Last Tinker‘s story is simple at its core, it’s surprisingly involving, thanks in part to some well-written characters and dialog. While Koru himself leaves conversations to Tap, there are a lot of clever and charming moments throughout the pair’s interactions with the game’s supporting cast. While proper voice acting is absent aside from a narrator during the prologue, the Banjo-Kazooie-like gibberish given to each character alongside their word balloons works just fine.
While the game never aims to push anyone’s graphics card to its limit, its art style and presentation is superb. The character and environmental designs are wonderfully creative and vibrant, and the soundtrack matches the mood of each level. The closest comparison I can make is to the Viva Pinata games, at least as far as texture and color composition goes. The game is well-optimized, as well, to the point that I was able to run it at medium settings on my relatively underpowered laptop with few problems.
The actual gameplay, surprisingly, is less like the platformers of old and more a fusion of different popular series. As far as controls go, Xbox 360 controllers are fully supported, which is what I played the game with. In perhaps the first time I’ve ever seen a case like this, jumping isn’t controlled by a button, but is instead automated when Koru is directed towards a platform. The fact that you can also make him run faster by holding down the right trigger leads me to think that the developers drew inspiration from the Assassin’s Creed series for traversal. Thankfully, they also fine-tuned them enough that they generally feel a lot smoother and easier to handle in comparison. The option to press Up on the D-pad and summon Tap to guide you to your next goal does a good job of preventing unnecessary frustration, too.
When not exploring each level and collecting the game’s main two items (numerous colored crystals which can be spent on ability and health upgrades, as well as golden paintbrushes which unlock bonus concept art), Koru also fights, which makes use of a unique combat system vaguely resembling the Arkham series. Enemies about to launch an attack on you have an exclamation point appear above their head, which is a hint to tap the right bumper and have Koru leap in whatever direction you’re pressing on the analog stick to dodge it. Pressing the attack button immediately afterward also results in a stronger punch than usual.
Other features include new abilities and powers for fighting gradually awarded to Koru as he meets each elemental spirit, which can be activated with the D-pad. These can have standard effects like increased damage, or more unique ones, like scaring an enemy into running away. The fact that the game keeps handing you new ones for each area helps the combat feel a lot more dynamic and engaging than the simplistic early sections might lead you to believe.
For all the praise I’ve given The Last Tinker, there are still some drawbacks. One of the biggest ones actually has nothing to do with the actual gameplay or presentation. It has to do with the game’s auto-save function, which is both far too infrequent and possibly a bit buggy. While you receive a notification every time the game records your progress, I had an unfortunate occurrence where, after quitting the game for a few hours and reloading my file, I found myself a good 10 to 15 minutes before the last auto-save. It would have been preferable to have specific save points, or even better, the ability to pause and save at any time.
Also, though the environments are indeed gorgeous, there is still a bit of repetition in their overall design, at least in the parts that take place in Colortown. This isn’t enough to bring down the game as a whole, but I do consider it worth pointing out. Finally, my least favorite recurring gameplay element had to be the Ratchet & Clank-inspired scripted rail-grinding sequences. A blur filter applied to the screen, combined with frequently changing camera angles, can make it tricky to pinpoint obstacles, and switching between rails to avoid them never feels as smooth and precise as the iconic Insomniac series the developers likely drew the idea from.
Despite these issues, The Last Tinker: City of Colors gets high marks from me. None of the gameplay is truly revolutionary, but the developers did a great job of fine-tuning existing ideas and presenting them in a very appealing overall package. The 3D platformer is a genre that has been in need of fresh blood for years, and more games like this would be a great direction to go in.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
Despite some small issues, The Last Tinker: City of Colors will offer platforming fans a healthy amount of charm, creativity, and fun.