Join Date: Mar 2011
I first learned about Tobe's Vertical Adventure while browsing through the Xbox Live's indie games over a year ago now. After looking through nearly the entire catalog comprised of almost nothing but controller massage games and screensavers, the boxart for Tobe was a breath of fresh air, and I bought it instantly. I ran through it several times, a few times in co-op and then solo, and I've been keeping up with Secret Base since (which has been pretty easy because I'm a long-time watcher of Bytejacker). As soon as I heard it was being ported to Steam and updated, I planned to buy it.
The level design in Tobe eases you into the game by introducing you to the various features and dangers of the game in a surprisingly brisk manner. While the first level shows and explains to you ropes, balloons, and the other basic mechanics like screenwrapping without the intrusion of baddies, by act four you're dealing with switches, falling blocks, spikes, springs, long drops, enemies, and giant spike walls rising from the bottom of the map. In the later worlds, you have to handle crushers, timed spikes, flying enemies, bubbles, and switches that move platforms among other traps. All of these elements are introduced over the course of sixteen levels a handful at a time so as not to overwhelm you.
Thankfully, the controls can best be described as easy to learn, difficult to master. They're simple and straightforward yet the number of actions you can perform (or fail to perform) from any given position belies that simplicity. Since TVA emphasizes the speedrunning aspect even more than in the Xbox Live version, the exactness and precision of the controls is an absolute requirement, one that the game delivers on.
Of course, it's important to note that there are actually two control methods, one for each character. While the general control is the same for both protagonists, the gameplay changes drastically between Tobe and the newly added Nana due to their individual abilities. Tobe's specialty is speed and wallrunning, excelling at straight, flat areas and low obstacles, whereas Nana moves quite slow, can't wallrun, and has less health and supplies, but makes up for it with a double jump.
Now, a double jump sounds somewhat uninteresting and it's easy to assume that she isn't actually that useful in comparison, but it's no hyperbole to say that the game is almost entirely different while playing as Nana. Though the levels are the same for both characters, the extra hop allows Nana to approach levels in a completely different manner. Nana, while at first feeling nerfed and more difficult, is the perfect fit for TVA, and emphasizes how a minor change to a game like this can have huge positive results.
It's impossible to talk about the characters without mentioning the pixelart. TVA has wonderful character art, with lots of crisp, bright, and poppy colors emulating but not confined by old 16-bit technology. The collectibles glimmer to draw your attention, waterfalls flow in the background, your character's animations fly by so fast you almost don't have time to appreciate them. And just in case the look gets stale, there's a change of palette every four levels to keep the visuals fresh and engaging, and the treasures enticing. These changes include a redesign of all the enemies, level blocks, gems, and animals, showing that there was extreme dedication to the artwork on the game.
While the game does a good job of encouraging multiple runs through a level--with its ticking timer, collectibles, points, and a leaderboard--it unfortunately may end up seeming somewhat dull and short if you have little interest in speedrunning or gathering items. The bonus for grabbing collectibles of earning extra lives, items, health, and ultimately the soundtrack and gallery for the game helps encourage scouting for them, but it may not be apparent enough originally to intrigue some people. If you're quick, it'll take you about an hour and change to finish one character's story, totaling out at about four hours for Tobe's story, Nana's story, and the co-op mode for if you get a friend to come along.
Additionally, co-op is local only, disappointingly. With the low entry price of the game, there is incredible potential in people gifting the game to someone and increasing the player base just because it's a simple, affordable, retro-styled cooperative game. I can imagine local co-op reducing sales and frustrating potential buyers since they need to invite someone over to play one of the three modes through the game.
Furthermore, as a minor nitpick, in the Xbox version co-op was confined to both players playing as Tobe since Nana hadn't even been programmed yet, but in the PC release, one player is forced to be Tobe and the other Nana. While allowing two players to approach a level differently based on their character's skill set, it would've been nice to have the option to play as Tobe and Tobe, or Nana and Nana. Since Nana has a distinct vertical advantage over Tobe, it's hard to keep both players together on screen.
On the topic of glitches, TVA has quite a few, particularly in co-op mode. A handful are severe, but thankfully at most they will only cost you a life or two, and if you play the game carefully, you shouldn't encounter any. Most notably, enemies seem to be the main cause of bugs.
In a hopeful sequel, I'd like to see more than just blocks crumbling at the escape. For example, they could crumble into spikes, a weight could fall from the ceiling and open or block a path, or maybe even an enemy could be unleashed into an area. More options for setting up your own escape would be welcomed as well. While just throwing a rope can change the route out of an act drastically, being able to affect the levels physically in some manner would help the theme of levels being malleable.
Also, possibly adding more characters could be nice. Particularly, I can see potential in adding a character with a hookshot (similar to Hookshot Escape) that can shoot left, right, and up to pull him along. I'd like to see alternate levels you can open through fulfilling certain criteria, or a challenge mode with levels specifically designed for certain characters that test their skills. Failing that, a level editor would fit in nicely and help grow a level design community.
Nonetheless, as it is, Tobe's Vertical Adventure is a fantastic game that pays homage to the classic games of the early 90s without downgrading the game itself to emulate them. It's a competent platformer that has simple yet precise controls and irresistible charm. For the small price tag, it delivers a unique, fun experience with colorful pixelart and cheery chiptunes.