Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week we look at a rare and pioneering series of 2D action-adventure games, the kind hardly ever ‘platformed’ outside the indie sector in modern times…
#49. TOMBA (series), by Chris Hepburn
The original PlayStation was host to many unique games, with more experimentation to explore what 3D games are capable of, where sadly many got overlooked. Whoopee Camp created the cult classic Tomba! series by using 3D art to put a new twist on 2D action-RPG-Metroidvania games making something truly unique that has shaped the way I view games.
Tomba! was an impressive feat of creativity that had worlds changing as the feral pink-haired boy Tomba defeated the Evil Magic Pigs. (Yes, the main enemies are evil pigs with magic powers who cursed the lands.) The first entry had the player going after the pigs to retrieve a stolen family heirloom and the second brought gamers to a new land to save a kidnapped friend from the evil pigs that have returned with a vengeance. The second title in the series expanded on the level design and 3D graphics by having better models, more complex locations and making more characters with polygons rather than sprites.
As one might expect, the games prove that being creatively weird is a powerful tool for creating a game that stands out on its own and engages the player’s imagination. As a lover of games, creativity, and breaking the mould, the Tomba! series serves as a great example of making something uniquely weird be incredibly engaging and fun for all ages.
Whoopee Camp made the 2D moving game Tomba! feel 3D by using intersections in the world that allowed the player to explore the area more in-depth than a typical side scroller, along with curving the moveable 2D plane that gives the world more of a presence. The Tomba! series shows a masterful skill for level design making each area feel unique using the curving 2D plane, intersections, the ability to grab onto and climb objects, and various tools.
Normal enemies are handled in the same method where hitting them will only stun them; throwing the enemies is necessary to defeat them. This method of combat opened up combo and interaction potential, as the player could throw enemies at each other. This grab and throw method is also used to interact with various objects in the world that lead to solving puzzles and opening new areas. Whoopee Camp took what made Mario and Castlevania’s combat great and moulded them into something new that feels more rewarding than simply winning with one hit.
Each biome feels like an amazing area to explore to see the obscure and fascinating features of the world. Exploration becomes all the more captivating as after beating each Evil Pig Boss, the curse they put on each corresponding area is lifted giving weight to the players progression and actions. A great example of the transformation is in the second game; the player will come to a very snowy area that requires the player to get a flying squirrel suit for warmth. Once the corresponding Evil Pig Boss is defeated, the area returns to the summer land it once was. Along with the original look, each area is host to many tools, characters, weapons, and items that can be utilized to explore further and past areas like a Metroidvania.
The first title demonstrated Whoopee Camp’s great talent with level design, further expanded in the second game. For instance, both games start the player in a sunny area that is safe for them to learn the basic mechanics and how intersections work, along with being given reasons to come back later as a Metroidvania does.
Tomba! 2 took the first area a step further, by more clearly showing off the major aspects that demonstrate players will need to return to finish quests or collect items than the first entry was able to show. Furthermore, the games contain different coloured chests that require the corresponding key to open, meaning players will have to come back and forth to explore for all the chest they missed.
Throughout each game, players will meet new characters who offer much to the lore of the world, as well as side quests that open up new possibilities. For instance, in the first game, the player is granted flying abilities to travel to any area as a reward for helping a dog named Baron. Baron appears again in the second title, where he lends his abilities to Tomba again. Like Baron, many of the characters found in the games will come to help Tomba in his quest, never letting the player feel lonely in a colourfully quirky world.
As aforementioned, Tomba! does not shy away from breaking away from normal conventions. For instance, bosses are not just beat by hitting them or jumping on their head, but have to be caught and thrown into an Evil Pig Bag that floats around the environment. Boss fights are tense, as the pigs teleport around using magic while the player tries to gain the advantage by grabbing them. Throwing the boss into the bag is no easy feat either, as both the player and bag are moving; timing the throw is paramount to winning and lifting the curses they left on the land.
The Tomba! series is one of the first Metroidvanias I ever played and was experienced long before I ever heard of the genre. The series is one of the reasons I grew to love platformers and open world games, along with niche or what some would say weird titles. Being weird or niche is one way to break the normal archetypes of games and do something that has yet to be done, to better voice a message, or even just have fun.
Whoopee Camp took creativity to another level making Tomba! truly unique. The game allows players to connect to the world and grow attached to the characters as the dialogue and game depicted the player’s impact on the world and the inhabitants.
Seeing the transformation of a cursed area go back to normal is truly rewarding as it demonstrates that the player has made a difference. Instead of showcasing the changes through dialogue or a cutscene, Tomba!’s world changes drastically in gameplay, making the final portion feel like a whole new world. Tomba!, and everything that makes the game quirky and creative, has stuck with me from my childhood to this day; even now the titles hold up as great experiences with so much to do.
Tomba! and its sequel are unfairly obscure titles from a genre that could use their kind of experimentation even today. On the plus side, with the recent release of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Metroidvania is still a going, popular genre, as are plenty of other 2D platformer games.