The Last Tinker: City of Color might as well be a response to my silent yearnings for a generation of games that have all but died off. A vibrant 3D platformer, it aligns with both my love of games such as Super Mario 64 and Sly Cooper, as well as my disappointment with so many modern games’ dull pallets. But although outwardly it appears to have every element needed to position itself as a modern classic in a dying genre, when broken down it would be hard to mistake it for more than a facade; a game that at times looks and feels like those it tries so hard to emulate, but will never stand among them.
Colortown is, as the name suggests, a world full of and built on color. Everything is crafted from paper, glue, and the creator’s imagination, creating a wonderfully bright and lively place to inhabit. But the citizens of Colortown don’t see it quite the same, having become disquieted with those who do not share their same color and splitting off into rival clans. The last bastion of unity resides in a slum of sorts, where we find Koru, the last of a race known as the Tinkers and the only one who may be able to bring Colortown back together after he unknowingly calls forth a bleakness that threatens to rid the world of all color permanently.
The Last Tinker doesn’t attempt a very ambitious plot, and its racial undertones and messages against othering are about as subtle as a brick careening through your window. It’s a simple narrative that nonetheless proves unexpectedly entertaining for reasons I can’t quite describe. Characters are flat yet quirky enough that I didn’t dislike talking to them, and the dialog while basic is didn’t annoy me the way so many kids games tend to. The end segments unfortunately descend into a thick coat of heavy handed racism and the power of friendship with about as much grace as you would expect from this sort of game, but I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed the story despite it having every reason to fall on its face.
While I call it a platformer, the actual platforming isn’t quite what you might expect. Utilizing an auto running/jumping mechanic similar to the Assassin’s Creed series, you aren’t required so much to jump from platform to platform as you are to hold down a button and direct your character which way to go. It’s extremely simplistic in nature, but to my surprise actually works well for the game more often than not. It’s fluid and very forgiving, which for a game presumably aimed at kids works well and makes it even more accessible than most of the genre. The levels you run through however are far less satisfying, rarely putting the excellently designed mechanic to anything more advanced than you’ll see within the first few minutes of the game, often relying on long tedious segments of empty terrain occasionally broken up by an impromptu enemy encounter (from which spawn further problems).
If the platforming is an example of how to make uncomplicated mechanics interesting, the combat system is the exact opposite; a dreadfully monotonous lesson in repetition and over simplification, that although never difficult proved frustrating merely because of how often it intruded on the other elements of the game. It easily ranks among the dullest button mashers I’ve encountered, and the input lag took a considerable amount of time to adjust to (by which I mean to say I got used to it, not that it ever became enjoyable). You gain a handful of powers through the course of the game, but these rarely amount to more than a novelty (a power to make enemies run away, become frozen from sadness, etc) that rarely work when executed outside of areas purposely designed to show you how they function.
Platforming and combat are easily the most prominent components to the game, but they aren’t what you will be doing most of the time. Instead of running through obstacle courses or beating up baddies, you’ll spend a majority of the 5-6 hour experience running from one place to the next, only to find when you get there that you need to continue running to an entirely new area. This is my biggest gripe with The Last Tinker; it builds up an amazing world and sends you running through it as if its building to a point where you’ll finally see the mechanics expanded upon (or at least put to greater use), only to have it end and leave you realizing how little time was actually spent doing anything of interest. It’s tedious and almost feels dishonest, but most of all it’s just a shame that so much time was put into crafting the outstanding presentation for the gameplay to not get anywhere near the same sort of attention, which ultimately makes the former rather superfluous.
Be that as it may, I couldn’t end this without mentioning the truly fantastic art design and soundtrack Mimimi Productions has created. Color bursts out of every inch of the world, spilling over the Dr Seuss like landscapes and twisting architecture, filled with bizarrely cute characters that each feel distinct for the region they inhabit. It’s like someone went absolutely crazy during arts and crafts, and built an entire city out of clay and cardboard, which would actually be rather fitting given that’s essentially what the lore tells you happened. The soundtrack was the surprise highlight though, with an eclectic collection of styles ranging from soothing accordion pieces to catchy guitar riffs and sweeping orchestral tracks. It ranges a huge spectrum of sounds and surprisingly nails each one with more finesse than most games manage with a single style, and somehow makes them all sit naturally next to one another.
The Last Tinker isn’t a hopeless mess by any means, but I was left disappointed by what could have potentially been so much more. I appreciate the developers making it accessible to kids, but doing so in such a way as to make it actively dull for those out of that stage of development makes it a hard game to recommend to anyone over the age of ten. Even putting the mechanical shortcomings aside, the unengaging and empty level designs make it a game that feels hollow; clearly missing something even when you can’t quite figure out what it is. It’s a lovely game to look at and features an excellent audio accompaniment, but it amounts to little more than smoke and mirrors once you realize how much was sacrificed in other areas of the game to make it possible.Full disclosure: this game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer