Tobe’s Vertical Adventure (PC) Review
Easily one of the most popular genres for indie developers to work in is the platformer. The reason is because it is a simple formula that offers a fair amount of space for creativity – great for start-up projects especially. Tobe’s Vertical Adventure is yet another entrant from Singapore developers, Secret Base, into this very crowded genre. It sits as the second title featuring the video game nerd Tobe, who is ushered into finding the treasure of King Garuza by his blonde-haired crush, Nana. Previously released on Xbox Live, the Steam release sees Tobe’s Vertical Adventure on the PC for the first time, so how does it manage the port?
As can be guessed by the title, Tobe’s Vertical Adventure focuses on a vertical level design. The player can choose to play as either Tobe or Nana, with the former being able to sprint and the latter having a double jump ability. There are separate campaigns for both of the characters, albeit the levels are exactly the same. Upon starting each level the player is gracefully lowered into the tomb by means of a balloon, and their goal is to work their way down to the bottom where a treasure chest is situated. Upon unlocking the chest and nabbing the contents, the player is then given a timer to work their way back up before the tomb claims them as another occupant. Never complicating matters, this formula is the basis for each level across the four different worlds that range from ice caverns to mysterious caves and fiery tombs.
Visually, the game takes on the retro sheen of 8-bit graphics but with a smooth finish and more modern day animations. Each level is made up of 1×1 tiles that make it easy for the developers to make each one feel unique. Of course there are a number of hazards on the way down such as charging boars and , relevant environmental hazards such as spitting lava or falling stalactites, and pitfalls. The player is given health and a few lives for each level; checkpoints are scattered around in case of death, but losing all lives means the level must be restarted. Lives and amount of health can be upgraded by collecting diamonds throughout the levels and saving the small birds on each level will contribute to this too. As would be expected with a game of this style, the game features a fantastic little library of chiptune tracks that comprise the catchy soundtrack. The best use of the music is to alter the tempo when players attempt to escape each level against the clock, it really adds an air of excitement and raises the heart rate, especially when an ascending spiky floor reaches ever nearer.
Now the game only features 16 levels in total and completionists will find some replayability attempting to collect all the diamonds and fluffy birds on the levels as well as beating speedruns, but it may feel a little short for everyone else. Having the two playable characters becomes a saving grace though as they sort of offer two different paths through each level. The problem is that Nana’s double jump ability makes most of the levels feel a lot easier to navigate, especially if you have been though the game once with Tobe already. As Tobe can only jump once, the player must utilise a running jump as well as the ropes and balloons around the level. The ropes can be thrown at the ceiling in order to reach those areas that Nana can simply hop up to, and the balloons allow the player to float a little and avoid fall damage. By far the biggest challenge in the game is getting accustomed to the controls. The default controls seem to be the most practical, but do take a few levels to get used to. Those still struggling down the line will be relieved to find that they keys can be reconfigured, but after a while they do feel a lot more natural. The game does support a controller pad, and although I have not tried this feature, I can only imagine that this would be the preferable way to play the game. Once you are over your own prohibitions, the most obvious problem in the game is the unresponsive wall jumping ability. Tobe in particular needs to make use of bouncing off of walls to reach higher platforms, but the fast pace that the player will want to adopt to perform this move is not catered for. Many deaths can be attributed to this and it does become an annoyance quickly, and one that never really goes away.
Even with the hindrances of unresponsive controls at times, the game is still quite an easy platformer. It was not until the very last world that I felt as though my platforming skills were really being tested (as demonstrated by my rage-induced shouting), and then of course the game ended. Another unfortunate downfall of the game is that the level design does get a little repetitive halfway through the game. However, different enemies, colour schemes and environmental hazards do help towards shooing away this feeling a little. Maybe a boss or a different peril other than a race to the top at the end of each level would have cured the itch. Luckily there is also a local co-op mode in the game which does provide a couple of laughs for you and a buddy. It may be the same levels once again, but additional animations such as helping each other up ledges do add a sense of teamwork. The timed race to the top is also much more fun with both of you frantically searching for a way up and occasionally helping to fling each other over an obstacle. The controls are a little awkward, but feel adequate enough for a decent playthrough.
Tobe’s Vertical Adventure is a little awkward, repetitive and not that challenging most of the time. Yet the overall presentation and peril-filled level design does make for a fun experience in the majority. There is also a fair amount of replayability to be had with the two playable characters, collectibles and speedruns to beat. The game will not scratch that hardcore platformer itch that games like Super Meat Boy or I Want To Be The Guy do. It is a charming experience and a well-designed platformer though, and the co-op is great if you have a friend around.
Review summary Pros:
Classic platforming, perilous level design, co-op mode, fantastic soundtrack
Unresponsive at times, not too challenging