The Last Tinker: City of Colors

UPDATE: When I played the Last Tinker, after completing the two tutorial tasks, I didn’t have enough money to advance the plot of the game and had to grind money for thirty minutes. It turns out, I had triggered a rare glitch that led to me not having enough money to proceed. The guys at Loot Entertainment and developer Mimimi Productions finally were able to replicate what I had unwittingly done. I have an uncanny knack for finding the worst glitches in games. Because the slow pace of the game was unquestionably my biggest gripe with the Last Tinker, and the pace I played was dictated by the extremely slow start (caused by a glitch), the Last Tinker has jumped over 100 spots on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

As a kid, Banjo-Kazooie represented a defining moment in my life. While the original PlayStation (and Crash Bandicoot specifically) was the first game that I wanted, Banjo was my first gaming obsession. I received it on July 11, 1998, and I could not put it down. I bring this up because I think there’s a strong possibility I would have had the same reaction to The Last Tinker: City of Colors if I had been a nine-year-old when it released. It’s a family friendly adventure that parents can safely let their children play without warping their minds. Then again, my parents banned me from playing most M rated games, and I think I might be a certifiable psychopath if the way I treat my Sims is any indication. Plus I use the word “fuck” so much that my dog thought that was her name for the longest time.

Actually, the comparisons to Banjo probably aren’t good ones. In terms of gameplay, Tinker reminded me a lot more of another Rare title: Star Fox Adventures. All jumping is done automatically, combat is button mashy, you rely on semi-controllable AI helpers to solve puzzles, and the pacing is so slow it can be measured by the cycles of the moon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least if you’re a young’in without the accumulated experience of dozens of games that do what Tinker does, only they did it better. UPDATE: the rest of this paragraph is not accurate, as I had triggered a glitch in the game that caused these pacing issues. However, I fully expect the speed of progression to test the patience of anyone older than, say, twelve. The opening bits of the story and tutorial can take hours to get through. It simply shouldn’t take so fucking long to get into the meat of the game. And the way it feels artificially padded only serves to frustrate more. Initially, your goal is to raise money to enter a race. Players are led to believe that completing two “learn the mechanics” tasks will earn them enough money to enter. It doesn’t. Not even close. Instead, you have to walk around smashing crates and jars. I actually had smashed every crate up to this point and it still took me an extra thirty minutes of walking back and forth, smashing the same crates over and over again until I had enough money. It’s completely unnecessary busy-work and it’s incredibly boring. What were they thinking?

Update: The two tasks described above should be enough money to enter the race.  I had triggered a rare glitch that caused me to not get the money for completing one of the tasks. They are correcting the glitch. It’s almost impossible to accidentally recreate it. Ain’t I lucky?

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I wasn’t sure if Tinker would recover from the disastrous opening. The only shinning spot early on was where it really did manipulate my emotion by having your best buddy, a mouthy little critter that looks like it was lifted from Viva Pinata, get punched in the nose. The game transitions to night, where you watch it lay in bed, having an unhappy dream and quivering. Then a little ghost color spirit thing talks about how your buddy isn’t doing so well. Then they show it quivering while it sleeps again. Hold on, there’s something wrong with my eyes. They appear to have some kind of leak. Wait, am I crying over this? Just a few minutes ago I was pissed that the game was dragging its ass like a dog with worms, and now I’m genuinely saddened by this little paper mache goat thing getting a little smack in the nose? Hell, I spent the last hour punching every friendly NPC way harder than that, just for the lulz. Now, I’m shedding actual tears.

Well played, Last Tinker.

And really, from this point forward, the pace does pick up. Not that it gets off to a great start. The first real stage takes place in a fortress where you have to sneak past guards, in a scene that feels as if it was lifted directly from the opening stage of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In fact, it’s so close to that game that it feels awkward. Forced stealth sections are the kidney stones of gaming, in that it feels good once you pass them, but only because enduring them is pure agony. Thankfully, that’s the last section where the tedium outranks the enjoyment. While nothing after this will surprise you or leave you thinking you’ve played something truly inspired, Tinker is an overall very decent game.

It’s also worth noting that the graphics are striking. When I played The Last Tinker on Indie Gamer Chick TV, a lot of people commented on how damn colorful the game is. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to indies being painted so bleakly that they’re responsible for a 20% increase in cutting among gamers, but seriously, The Last Tinker really stands out. It’s been a while since a game has come along that’s so cheerful that you can’t help but notice it. Yet, this is exactly the kind of game that Rare would have put out during their Nintendo 64 heyday. The story (a thinly-disguised tale about racial tolerance), characters, and setting all would feel at home on Nick Jr. or PBS, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I can’t pretend I’m The Last Tinker’s target audience, but I liked it enough for what it was. It does a LOT wrong. The pacing is horrible, the controls merely adequate, the combat is repetitive, the enemies can be too damn spongy, and it’s even a bit unstable. They had to include a respawn option in the pause menu because it’s possible to get yourself stuck in some sections of the game, like in the screenshot below.

I have no idea how I got here, but I'm stuck. For what it's worth, this is the only time I need to use the respawn option.

I have no idea how I got here, but I’m stuck. For what it’s worth, this was the only time I needed to use the respawn option.

I don’t know if The Last Tinker’s mistakes completely off-balance what it does right. I can only speak for my own experience. And I liked it. It didn’t make me revert to a giggling, happy-go-lucky child like Super Mario Galaxy did, but it never really had the potential to. And again, this game wasn’t made for cynical gaming veterans. I suspected The Last Tinker would be an excellent “ease into gaming” title for younger children. But, I wanted to know for sure, so I secured some copies to hand out to parents with children aged 5 to 12.

My hunch was correct. Reader John Berger‘s kids (a ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter) enjoyed it. I included the full text of his mini-review below the trailer, but here’s the paragraph that mattered the most.

“As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”

Fellow-critic Brad Gallaway wasn’t as forgiving towards the gameplay as I was, but his five-year-old son also loved it.

“The action is simple and straightforward enough for him to grasp, and the basic tasks weren’t a deterrent to him at all. While my eyes were glazing over with boredom, he’s so new to gaming that he has no idea how rote and uninspired the game can feel at times. And really, that’s just fine because it’s clear to me that Tinker was not aimed at the experienced gamer, and I’m quite happy to have age-appropriate software available for the young ones.”
It's also a great way to expose children to the horrible way adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

It’s also a great way to expose children to the horrible ways adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

I don’t base my reviews on how anyone else feels about a game, and I’m not starting here. The Last Tinker: City of Colors has more problems than a math quiz. For me at least, it was never better than decent. However, it was consistently decent enough to earn my Seal of Approval. But, if you have young kids? This is probably the type of game that you would have played as a kid. The type of game that can lead to your children being confirmed gamers for life, and I can think of no more powerful a statement to make about a game aimed at that age group. Use the Last Tinker to hook ’em while they’re young. Hey, it works for the tobacco industry!
$14.99 ($19.99 without a PlayStation Plus subscription) lost count of how many times I accidentally typed “The Last THINKER” in the making of this review.
The Last Thinker Tinker is Chick approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.
Here’s John’s full review.
Just for reference, my son is 10 and my younger daughter is 8. All three of us were playing/watching at the same time.
In short, the blending of the game styles of “Ratchet & Clank”, “Banjo Kazooie”, and even “Okami” — with the color brilliance of all three notched up quite a bit — made it a fun game to watch. (I let my kids play it while I sat with them.)
For the most part I let them try to figure out how to progress, although there were a few times where I basically had to order them where to go. (“No, dad, that’s not where we have to go!” “Yes, it is, so do it!” “Oh, you were right.”) A few of the solutions weren’t very obvious, even to me, to where I had to find a “let’s play” video to find out how to progress.
But otherwise, my kids love it.  As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”
Just to try to get some balance, I asked if there was anything about the game that they didn’t like, and I told them that I need them to be honest about that. Neither of them had anything bad to say about it. So, it was definitely a hit with the kids.
I do kind of agree with you that it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for adults. But considering that it’s along the same gameplay lines as “Ratchet & Clank” and “Banjo Kazooie”, I think this is good enough for adults who just want to wind down and play something that’s not too demanding. After all, you could argue that the LEGO games aren’t really geared towards adults either, but I’ve bought every single one of them.

The Epilepsy Thing

If you have epilepsy, do not use this editorial as a baseline for your own ability to play games. Consult with your doctor before attempting to play any video games. 

In order to play upcoming Xbox Live Arcade title Charlie Murder, I had to ditch my beautiful Sony 3D LCD television and instead slum it on an old projection TV with a fading image. In addition to that, I had to bring extra lighting into my office, and wear sunglasses. This was in addition to my normal precautions, which include a proper distance from the screen and my medications.

Photosensitive epilepsy is the hand I was dealt at age sixteen. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything as terrifying as my first seizure. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But what was really terrifying about it was, I love video games. They weren’t the only thing I was potentially about to lose out on forever, but they were the thing that at age sixteen I felt I couldn’t live without the most. It took over a month before my doctor and various specialists were able to deduce what I had. When I was sat down to have explained to me how my life would unfold from here on out, I remember being too scared to ask if I could play games ever again. I couldn’t even spit it out, and the doctor excused himself to get me literature and my starter pack of medications. Finally, I kind of whimpered to my parents “I don’t think I’ll be able to play games again.” When the doctor walked back into the room, my father was the one who asked. I felt a literal weight lift off my stomach and shoulders when he said “it’s not out of the question, but she’ll have to exercise caution.”

Ever since my Vintage Hero review, I've been besiegied by endless requests to try another Mega Man-inspired XBLIG.  Well, I actually did purchase Rad Raygun way back when it came out.  It became one of two XBLIGs that triggered a seizure in me.  The developers of Rad Raygun are not resposible for that at all.  I am.  I took the risk of playing it.  They had warned me that they were unsure about sections of the game and that I should show caution.  I played it anyway, because I was like "well, it looks like an original Game Boy game, with pale greens, blacks, and whites.  I don't think it could possibly set off a seizure."  I'm not sure where exactly the spell happened, but there was a moment that caused it.  I don't remember most of my experience with it, but according to Brian, I seemed to be enjoying it despite some objections to the controls.  I would also like to say that developers TRU FUN Entertainment were super classy and apologetic about the whole thing, despite having done NOTHING wrong.  I appreciated their sympathy and I will look forward to their future projects.  They're good dudes.

Ever since my Vintage Hero review, I’ve been besieged by endless requests to try another Mega Man-inspired XBLIG. Well, I actually did purchase Rad Raygun way back when it came out. It became one of two XBLIGs that triggered a seizure in me. The developers of Rad Raygun are not responsible for that at all. I am. I took the risk of playing it. They had warned me that they were unsure about sections of the game and that I should show caution. I played it anyway, because I was like “well, it looks like an original Game Boy game, with pale greens, blacks, and whites. I don’t think it could possibly set off a seizure.” I’m not sure where exactly the spell happened, but there was a moment that caused it. I don’t remember most of my experience with it, but according to Brian, I seemed to be enjoying it despite some objections to the controls. I would also like to say that developers TRU FUN Entertainment were super classy and apologetic about the whole thing, despite having done NOTHING wrong. I appreciated their sympathy and I will look forward to their future projects. They’re good dudes.  You can read a review by my friend Tim Hurley of TheXBLIG.com right here.

I was advised to wait until my body got used to the medication I was given. In that time, I had exercised extreme caution towards such simple things as turning on lights or watching television. Games require slightly more attention than passively watching TV, but at least I knew gaming would return to my life. Then I was given the go ahead to play games, with the understanding that it could be years before I fully had a handle on what could set off a seizure, so caution and supervision would probably be required. Also, you know how every game has one of those bullshit “remember to take a break every hour” reminders?  Yea, those would never be bullshit for me again.

So obviously I did the happy dance of joyful elation and jumped right back into my beloved games, right? Well, no. I remember looking at my Xbox and picturing Russian Roulette in my head. Literally, that’s what I thought. I imagined a bullet being loaded into a chamber, and pushing the power button as pulling the trigger. I didn’t play games that day. I didn’t play them again for nearly two weeks after I had been given to go-ahead. The next time I played a game, it was for my Nintendo DS. With the back-light turned completely off. It was a game called Lost in Blue, which I had previously started and not finished. I knew it wasn’t flashy. It was my ease-back-in game. Eventually, epilepsy became the boogeyman. I dealt with it on a regular basis, but not from gaming. Nearly eight years later, and I’ve probably had seizures as a direct result of playing games maybe five times.

Two of those seizures were the result of games I was reviewing for Indie Gamer Chick. Do you know whose fault it was that I had those spells?

Mine. And mine alone.

My doctor made it clear to me: gaming will always be a risk, from here on out, for the rest of my life. The fact that I can even play games today is something I’m very grateful for. Epilepsy has limited my life in other ways. I can’t get my driver’s license. Nor should I attempt to get it. I would be a risk to myself and others. I met a fellow who lives with epilepsy who told me it was bullshit that he couldn’t get his license, even as he conceded that he couldn’t predict his spells. I thought, “wow, you’re an incredibly selfish human being, are you not?” Personally, if I had to choose between risking the lives of others on the road or catching the bus, I would think the bus would be a lay-up. I guess not everyone feels that way.

I am absolutely worried sick that I won't be able to play Rain.  I would guess the game will feature lightning effects, which are typically the cause for those bright, screen-wide strobes that set off seizures in me.  Will I be heartbroken if Rain turns out to be off limits?  Yes.  Is it the end of the world?  No way.  There are thousands of games that aren't off-limits to me.  In that sense, I'm extremely lucky.  Some people can't play games at all.

I am absolutely worried sick that I won’t be able to play Rain. I would guess the game will feature lightning effects, which are typically the cause for those bright, screen-wide strobes that set off seizures in me. Will I be heartbroken if Rain turns out to be off-limits? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No way. There are thousands of games that aren’t off-limits to me. In that sense, I’m extremely lucky. Some people can’t play games at all. UPDATE: I could play it. As it turns out, I should have been more worried that the game would be boring.

You know, as a kid, I loved attending Golden State Warriors games. I was obsessed with them. When I was eight-years-old, I loved Latrell Sprewell so much that I convinced myself that P. J. Carlesimo’s neck must have assaulted Spree’s hands. Today?  I can’t safely attend Warriors games, because flash bulbs explode for every player introduction, fast-break, dunk, lay-up, or if a visiting star like LeBron James so much as smiles on the bench.

Now imagine if I took my no-Warriors limitation to the extreme and said I would sue the Warriors organization, the city of Oakland, and Oracle Arena if they didn’t ban flash-photography from the building. Not only that, but force them to also eliminate the flashy home-team introductions, and the rally-graphics from the display screens. It would create a boring atmosphere for everyone. Personally, I would hate myself if I caused that. Yet, since my epilepsy became public knowledge, I’ve had many people afflicted with it say we ought to all come together and file a class-action lawsuit against the gaming industry. Ummmm, no.  We really shouldn’t. Because we are in fact not the center of the universe.

I’ve had eight years to accept that not every game is playable by me. A few years ago, my father got me an Atari Flashback as novelty gift for Christmas. Oops. As it turns out, in the dark ages of video games, the only special effect developers had at their disposal was to make the game brightly flash strobes like it was trying to signal for a helicopter to land on your TV. You know what? I’m remarkably lucky. I live in an era where there are thousands of games accessible to me without fear of my personal trigger. Not only that, but the more hours I put into gaming, the more I’m able to accurately predict when a scene is coming up that will feature my triggers, and I can simply look away.

When I'm asked if I've ever played an old Atari 2600 game, if my answer isn't "yes, I played it when I was a kid" then chances are the answer will be "I can never play it."  Old Atari games rely heavily on strobe effects, which is my personal trigger.  I had a seizure playing the game Haunted House on the Atari Flashback my father gave me a couple years ago.  I did play some Atari games before I developed epilepsy.  I even had Activision Anthology for my Game Boy Advance and Atari's Greatest Hits for my Xbox.  Chances are i didn't like the games too much anyway.  What can I say?  I'm a whippersnapper with no appreciation for the classics.

When I’m asked if I’ve ever played an old Atari 2600 game, if my answer isn’t “yes, I played it when I was a kid” then chances are the answer will be “I can never play it.” Old Atari games rely heavily on strobe effects, which are my personal trigger. I had a seizure playing the game Haunted House on the Atari Flashback my father gave me a couple of years ago. I did play some Atari games before I developed epilepsy. I even had Activision Anthology for my Game Boy Advance and Atari’s Greatest Hits for my Xbox. Chances are I didn’t like the games too much anyway. What can I say? I’m a whippersnapper with no appreciation for the classics.

Not everyone is as lucky as me, and I do sympathize with those that aren’t. I can’t imagine how my life would have played out if I had to quit gaming at age sixteen. At the same time, not everyone gets to experience everything the world has to offer. I know in America we teach that with hard work and perseverance it isn’t true, but unfortunately it is. If your epilepsy is more severe than mine, maybe gaming is not for you. Making threats against the game industry, or against hard-working developers is not going to make them sympathetic to your cause. Changes to the industry will not be forced by angry lawsuits. Angry lawsuits make people feel like they’re under attack. Which they kind of are. I find that not being a bitch about it makes people want to learn from me. If I berated them for having the nerve to try to be artistic, they might end up not being interested at all in learning how to improve my gaming life.

Do I wish there was a change? Yes. I wish developers would make some of their special effects that have no bearing on gameplay optional. But only if it’s cost efficient to them. That’s not always the case, but if it is, that option could mean the difference between someone like me playing their game and someone like me only hearing about it. A perfect example is Fez. At the time it came out, I had been doing Indie Gamer Chick for less than a year. My readers hadn’t quite got a feel for what was and wasn’t off-limits for me. Today? Hundreds of people have my back, and look out for games that are potentially dangerous for me to play. I have hundreds of guardian angels whose vigilance protects me on a daily basis, and that is cool as hell. But at the time Fez came out, I bought the game after some people had played it and said the flashing wasn’t “too bad.” It took me about an hour to find out that Fez was totally off-limits for me, because I had a minor spell while playing it.

I know Phil Fish is persona non grata today, but actually either he or someone for Polytron Corporation were mortified that Fez posed a risk for me. They couldn’t believe it, because the game had passed Microsoft’s seizure risk certification. What they weren’t aware of was that certification only applies to those without a preexisting condition. If a person already has epilepsy, it means nothing to them. Is that Microsoft’s fault? Absolutely not. Is it Phil Fish or Polytron’s fault I had a seizure while playing Fez? No. It’s my fault. I assumed the risk of playing a game, as my doctor made clear to me. That risk was realized and I had a spell. Fish and Polytron couldn’t have been classier in the aftermath of it. My only regret is I couldn’t play their game more. I was apparently enjoying it.

I wish gaming had a database for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Something as comprehensive as GameFAQs, only it listed potential risks and triggers for games. Who would contribute to this? Well, judging from the fact that I have hundreds of fans who on a daily basis warn me about games, movies, TV, or even random YouTube videos that could be a risk for me, I’m willing to bet gamers of all stripes would be eager to contribute. But, it’s not as easy as just listing the whole flashy, strobe-effect thing for everyone. Epilepsy doesn’t work like that. There are thousands of known triggers across the epilepsy spectrum. Some people are sensitive to flashes, like me. Some people are sensitive to repetitive patterns. Some people are even known to be sensitive towards specific colors. And once you have a feel for what someone’s trigger is, you’re not even taking into account their personal degree of sensitivity. In theory, everyone is vulnerable to epilepsy. That’s why certification like Microsoft’s exists. But for me? My sensitivity is all over the place. Sometimes it takes a lot to set me off. Then you instances like the one time I had a seizure from looking at my desk lamp, looking away for a moment, then looking back at it.

Who knows?  Maybe one day, I'll be able to play Fez.  I was sort of counting on a Vita or 3DS port, which I could play with the back-lighting turned off.  Alas, it doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Who knows? Maybe one day, I’ll be able to play Fez. I was sort of counting on a Vita or 3DS port, which I could play with the back-lighting turned off. Alas, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Obviously a database could not include everything. But if we could isolate the statistical top-triggers among the epileptic population and list possible risks of those in each game, we could open up gaming to thousands of people who don’t have the type of support system I’ve built up over the last two years. We could also use it to educate developers. I don’t want to compromise anyone’s artistic vision. I’m not that selfish. But if they can make those effects optional, that would be awesome. In fact, over a dozen XBLIG games have added such switches after the developers met me. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish as Indie Gamer Chick, but the getting the gift of having a game with a switch that lessens the potential risk for me to play it? It makes me tear up every time. We all have a chance to give this gift to an entire community of potential gamers. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but let’s make this happen.

I support the Epilepsy Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that aims to not only learn possible ways of treating epilepsy, but also strives to improve the quality of living among those who live with it.  Their tireless work has been invaluable to my life, and the lives of millions of others.  Follow them on Twitter (they only have 9,400 followers.  Paris Hilton has eleven million followers.  There is no justice) and if you have the means, please donate to them.  Every little bit helps.

Let’s open up how we’ll tackle this database thing in the comments.  I’m also hearing from my Twitter fans about possibly expanding the idea to include other limitations, such as color blindness, or games that can be played with one hand for those missing limbs.  Let’s make this an actual discussion.  I’ve said for two years now, I have the best fans in the world.  Let’s prove me right on that.

I want to thank my friend Cyril Lachel of DefunctGames.com for being one of the guys who always keeps an eye out for me on the gaming thing, not to mention countless guys and gals on Facebook and Twitter.  When I said you’re my guardian angels, I wasn’t being cute.  It’s true.

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