Most of the time, when you see a platforming game in release, you see a lone warrior going at it, occasionally calling on a friend to help take out the garbage. However, in that very rare example of brilliance, you'll see a gaggle of characters take part in the journey, and rely on each other to move ahead in a level. This was certainly the case with Shigeru Miyamoto's Pikmin games for the GameCube, which relied on a cute little astronaut calling upon strange multi-colored alien beings to do his bidding and help him get ahead on missions. Now we see a game with a familiar tone, but a completely different storyline, with Tokobot, Tecmo's first offering for the PSP. And, man, is it fun.
Basically, the game puts you in the shoes of a hero who is put in charge to discover details about a long-lost civilization in the world of Moritari. This world was once founded upon by a group that knew their way around technology, and the latest society to inhabit the planet thinks there might be some use out of this. So they dispatch a lone hero to set out upon his discovery, and as he progresses, he makes a discovery of little robots that aid him in his quest by putting themselves together in three different formations, each of which serve a purpose.
Now, I've gone over the formations in the past with previews and such, but I'll touch up upon them real quickly. You have the straight line formation, which allows the hero to form ladders to higher surfaces and perform hammer attacks; a straight-line formation, which allows the hero to spin the Tokobots like a propeller for airborne jumps and sweeping attacks; and a circle formation, which serves as both a defensive maneuver and adding weight to hitting switches on the floor. All three of these formations will find constant use, so learn them quickly.
The Tokobots also have the ability of powering up to enormous status, which comes in rather handy for boss battles. This comes at the cost of precious material that you collect, so you'll want to use this technique rather wisely. But it's good to see the Tokobots getting some power all their own and exhibiting it only in a real time of need. And it has the old Voltron kind of feel to it, you know? "And I'll form the head!"
The graphics look good for Tecmo's first outing, with a friendly frame rate and great animated details on the hero and the Tokobots, especially in their complex formations. However, the level design seems a bit too basic at times, and leans on ideas that have been used in games long before. Did we really need another stage where you have to dodge spotlights to get to switches? Ahh, well, it works, and you have to keep your Tokobots out of cover as well, so there's some strategy involved. The interactive menu screens are easy to follow, as you'll get assistance while you move ahead.
The sound isn't anything worth really writing home about, but at least you'll want to keep the volume at a moderate level. The music is pretty bouncy and alive, keeping up with the tempo of the game, and the sound effects manage to do some fine work, as minimal as they may be. There's very little voice work here, though, which is a bit of a letdown. But then again, at least we're not getting some squeaky annoyance popping up at the wrong times.
The gameplay is just terrific. No matter which formation you may be using, it comes across as friendly to the user and very effective. It may take a little bit of trial-and-error to navigate through a few parts in the game, but that's just part of the challenge. The boss battles alone require a great deal of thinking, and not just rushing in and trying to hit whatever you can
There's six huge worlds to explore in all, but once the game's completed, you can revisit it in Time Attack mode, and even unlock a bonus game room loaded with extras. Sadly, multiplayer didn't make the cut. And to think, I was ready to take my Tokobots into battle. Argh!
Tokobot may not be high on your must-purchase list for the PSP, but trust me, it should be. The game's loads of fun and has innovative techniques just waiting to be mastered. It's not your typical platformer, and that's what makes it click. Sure, it would've been nice to have some multiplayer extras, but, hey, maybe they're saving that for the sequel. Maybe they'll call it Something To Tokobot? Heh.