Noise to Signal

Login disabled.

WiiWare Double Shot:
Toki Tori and Orbient

Toki Tori
(Two Tribes, 1000 Wii Points US / 900 Wii Points EU)

Toki Tori is the story of…just kidding. There’s no story. It’s one of those puzzle games that puts you in control of a tile-sized character and asks you to determine the sequence of moves that will get you to the exit. That’s not meant to sound dismissive as there’s absolutely no reason a game like that won’t be good (cases in point: the Lolo games, Chip’s Challenge, or Kickle Cubicle), but I’m phrasing it that way because that’s literally all Toki Tori is. It doesn’t try to be anything larger, and if you expect something larger, you will dislike the game.

You control a fat little chicken who, like all chickens, can build bridges, fire ice cannons, and rig traps for ghosts. In each level you will have to free your unhatched brethren, navigating all manner of obstacles and enemies as you do. The backdrop changes as you advance through the game, to give some illusion of progress, but each level is essentially the same: an enclosed room with hazards that must be sequentially overcome.

If it sounds like I’m being harsh on the game, that’s probably because I am. And I feel guilty for that, because Toki Tori is by no means a bad game. But at the same time, I’m frustrated by its disinterest in reaching for greatness. World of Goo, for example, could have settled for being a passable puzzler. That would have been easy; all they’d need to do is give us slightly different variations on the same mechanic and it would have gotten away with it. Instead the game established its foundation as a puzzler, and used that familiar base to give us lots of great stuff to love on top of it.

I would recommend (and have recommended) World of Goo to people whether or not they even like puzzle games. I would not recommend Toki Tori to anybody who doesn’t specifically like walking around a room freeing chickens.

Chickenman, chickenman…chickenman, hold my hand.
Toki Tori

The game is fun enough that it will hold your attention for at least an hour or two. After that, however, the realization sets in that the game—however long it is—will never be any different than it has been from the start. There’s nothing there to inherently drive interest. There’s no story you’d like to see unfold and no real mysteries up ahead. You’ve seen one level, and, rearrangements aside, you’ve seen them all. The music isn’t nearly varied enough, and while it isn’t bad, it’s not good enough that you’ll want to hear the same irrelevant clips so frequently.

Some people will not be turned off by that. To those people, I recommend Toki Tori. Others, such as myself, will play the game and see only a wealth of missed opportunities. The cuteness factor is there, but not enough to distinguish it. The main character is a chicken, but you might as well be playing as a blob for all the personality it gives him. The graphics aren’t bad in isolation (each of the sprites is impressively detailed) but working together in a stage it feels strangely muddy. The above screen-grab is pretty representative; enemies, hazards and chicken eggs stand out no more than ladders or ledges. Of course you’ll be able to tell the difference, but it takes an uncommon amount of visual energy to do so.

The controls are a bit cumbersome, too…the wrist-flicking to select an ability definitely feels tacked on, and it makes using the Wiimote (with plenty of free buttons, folks…game designers seem to forget this…) more of a hassle than a bonus. The point-to-walk option is fine, I guess, except that I never use it and there’s no way to turn off the obtrusive cursor. Second-player participation (which doesn’t matter much to me in a game like this) feels pointless as well, as all player two can do is draw arrows or circles (or hairy cocks) on the screen to draw the main player’s attention to things.

On top of all this, it seems that nearly all of the levels are direct ports of the Game Boy Color version of the same game. I’ve never played that game, so it doesn’t particularly matter to me…but that does seem somewhat representative of the lack of additional effort in this game.

Two stars

Art Style: Orbient
(Nintendo, 600 Wii Points)

A perfect counter-weight to the Toki Tori review, Art Style: Orbient features many of the same ostensible shortcomings: no story, limited music, repetitive backgrounds. And no, I won’t say that these things become strengths in the hands of Orbient, but they do feel more at home, and appropriate, and—most importantly—they are outweighed by a truly unique and wonderful experience.

I had “game” at the end of that last sentence at first, but quickly replaced it. Orbient is a game, but it’s much more an experience. And because of that, it becomes very difficult to describe why it works so well…or even what it is.

It takes place in space—that much is clear—on a scale that reduces most planets to the size of small coins. In each level, a small grey planet is your focus…but you don’t control it. You control gravity (and anti-gravity) and use that to pull and push your planet in relation to other astral bodies. The larger the body, the stronger the force of gravity it can exert. Your goal is to absorb bodies your own size, pull smaller satellites into orbit around you, and, eventually, snag yourself a sun.

"Why? What do you think she’s doing?" "Playing pool with planets."

What you are doing, I suppose, is building a sequence of small solar systems…and yet the mechanics are so simple, and the movement so graceful that you will be amazed at the smallness and bigness of it at the same time. I cannot stress enough just how gorgeous and elegant it feels to use a larger planet’s gravity to pull you around, swing you out the other direction, and land you in a larger object’s orbit. It’s lovely. And each time you pick up a moon, an additional instrument is layered onto the soundtrack. It starts out a bit twinkly and dull, but ends up enormous and inspiring to the point that you feel like you’re playing a very good adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

(The screen shot above does the game literally no justice. No screen shot does. It’s a game you need to feel to understand.)

There’s no story, you don’t play a character, and there is nobody to rescue or any crisis to avoid. The game uses only two buttons, but it uses them brilliantly, and at no point will you feel the game is either too easy or too hard. Each level gives you some new and interesting arrangement of the cosmos, and it’s a relaxing and hypnotic voyage through the universe whether or not you actually succeed.

Would I recommend this game to everybody? Emphatically: no. You need a large amount of patience when you’re dealing with gravity rather than direct action, and this certainly won’t interest a certain type of gamer enough to pull their heads out of Fallout 3.

And that’s okay. Because Orbient (a beautiful entry in Nintendo’s Art Style series) knows it’s quiet. It’s a haven for gamers who can appreciate a game of large ideas and cosmic implications. And it’s a reminder of how simple everything can be, if you just step far enough away.

Four stars

About this entry


According to WiiWare World, here are the 5 best WiiWare games of ‘08:

5) Art Style: Orbient
4) Toki Tori
3) Lost Winds
2) Mega Man 9
1) World of Goo…

Phil Reed's picture

By Phil Reed
December 31, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

reply / #