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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #49—Tomba

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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…

Tomba gameplay screenshot

#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.

Tomba gameplay screenshot 2

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.

Tomba 2 cover art

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.

What was your first Metroid-style game? Let us know below, and be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #10—Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II

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Knights of the Old Republic II

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 licensed video game that goes above and beyond its franchise roots—a beautifully flawed yet remarkable Star Wars story for the ages …

#10. KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS, by Ben Newman

In a universe so expansive and multi-layered, why have mainstream Star Wars stories dealt with morality in such binary terms? That question was bouncing around Chris Avellone’s head just before the opportunity to write Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (KOTOR 2) dropped in his lap. 

The question is so simple, but not many writers handed the opportunity to work on the beloved franchise decide to commit to blurring the lines of the series’ strict morality. What Obsidian Entertainment did, though, was write a Star Wars game that didn’t just blur the lines, it erased them altogether. 

The opening of KOTOR 2 is not great. Whenever I re-play the game, I feel a distinct sense of regret over the thought that the majority of people who picked up the game likely dropped it after what is, quite possibly, the worst opening level of all time relative to the quality found in the rest of the game. However, while gameplay-wise the mining asteroid opening of KOTOR 2 is severely lacking, it does an excellent job at providing the game’s unforgettable sense of atmosphere.

KOTOR 2 is dark; its atmosphere nestles in the creases of your brain as you realise that reliable concepts such as “light side” and “dark side” are vapid. No other character embodies KOTOR 2’s utter rejection of its source material’s pretences than Kreia, the first voice heard in the game, post-tutorial. 

kotor 2

Kreia is the soul of KOTOR 2. While the cast of party members boast enough depth to make BioWare green with envy, her philosophy is what directly underpins KOTOR 2’s success. She is nothing short of Shakespearean, oft-misunderstood with viewpoints that only sink in long after she has uttered them. 

Discussing Kreia herself is an essay, but to cut her philosophy short, she equates Jedi and Sith as equally pointless and full of moral downfalls. Both are equally reliant on the Force, which in Kreia’s views, makes them weak. In essence, she’s an extension of the Nietzschean idea that “in individuals insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Without veering into spoilers, Kreia’s experience of both the light side and dark side of the Force allows players to experience the follies of both binaries. 

While Kreia is the standout example, each party member and villain that accompanies the story has similar depth. Each is moulded by the player’s decisions in a way that feels realistic, each with ever-unfolding depths, personalities, and biases. While BioWare prefers characters to wear their personalities on their sleeves, Obsidian opts for slower, more calculated character development. The major difference between both studios can be seen in how each one approaches its central villains. Below are two quotes, one from the BioWare developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic‘s Darth Malak, then a quote from KOTOR 2‘s Darth Sion: 

“We have been inexorably pushed to this final confrontation. I see now that this can only be settled when one of us destroys the other. Once again we will fight each other in single combat and the winner will decide the fate of the galaxy!” – Darth Malak

“I will bring his corpse to her, cast it at her feet. It will be as if killing her children. I will kill all she protects, all she shields, until her hands are drenched in blood.” – Darth Sion

Now, Malak’s dialogue is not bad, but it does not have the same biting depth as Sion’s. While the above is an extreme example, it is a symptom of how Obsidian simply has a deft touch that BioWare all too often lacks in its own writing.

In terms of KOTOR 2‘s party members, Atton sticks out as another strong example of good characterisation. On the surface, he’s a Han Solo-like character full of genuinely funny quips and a mellow attitude. Soon, though, you realise Atton has a much more detailed past that players would realise, as well as a future that can go many ways depending on player choice. 

KOTOR 2

No creator behind a Star Wars game, or perhaps even film, has treated the interwoven species, outlooks, and histories of the licence with as much respect. Their personalities and influence are reflected in their playstyles, with each character having a direct effect on the game’s turn-based gameplay. 

KOTOR 2, like its predecessor, is essentially a Dungeons & Dragons game, but the gameplay disguises that fact well. While turn-based combat is usually equated to slow, methodical gameplay, KOTOR 2 leaves space for both slower and faster styles. Players can pause the game and queue up commands and abilities for their party, or simply set up appropriate combat behaviours for their AI partners to fulfil themselves. On tougher difficulties, though, players need to play it like a Baldur’s Gate game and be methodical, as some of the end-game bosses and one-versus-one segments in the game are tough as nails. 

Where KOTOR 2 shines, though, is in the quality of writing and the world-building. The setting of KOTOR 2 paints a world where the Jedi Order is no more, with a rogue Sith force dominating known space. Exploring recognisable planets through the lens of a post-Jedi world is an intelligent method for Obsidian to approach the tropes of the franchise from a different angle. 

Knights of the Old Republic 2

Walking through an overgrown, abandoned Dantooine and the labyrinthine streets of Nar Shaddaa are tangible examples that the universe would still exist without the Jedi, and is trucking on despite being weighed down by the Sith. All of KOTOR 2 consistently reinforces its central rejection of the principles of Star Wars, and it’s for that brave decision that it stands as the best Star Wars game ever made. 

I have been careful to avoid too many spoilers while writing this piece, so apologies for its brevity. Going into this kind of story in any significant way is still too many spoilers. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, RPG games or good writing, then you cannot go wrong with KOTOR 2. In a way, the game ruined Star Wars for me simply because nobody has done the universe the same justice since.

Thanks for joining us for a look at one of the original Xbox’s best games. Next week, things get an epic shake-up, for both the game in question and our favourite games list as a whole! To keep up, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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