Review: Tiki Towers (WiiWare)

Will Tiki Towers build Wiiware to new heights or crash under its own weight?

Some might see this jungle themed construction game as a bit of a cash in on the success of World of Goo. After all, both games command you to get from point A to point B by building a structure. However, this is where the similarities end. For starters, the structures are more conventional here and resemble traditional architecture,, albeit in a simplified form. There are no wacky triangle-shaped goo bridges with balloons to hold them up, just traditional girders made of bamboo to place into a shape of your own design with the help of your team of monkey engineers. Their job is to carry out your orders by placing bamboo pieces, stabilizing them with knots made of vines, and carrying out other odd jobs, including conjuring "Bananamana".

Some of the differences between Tiki Towers and World of Goo are subtle. What’s the difference between a goo tower and a bamboo tower, after all? Well, a lot of the difference is in the physics engine. World of Goo's building medium is very bouncy – you must constantly fight gravity as your gooey structures sway left and right. Tiki Towers' bamboo is affected by gravity too, but the challenge is to create a stable structure. If too much stress is put on a piece, it can break, potentially causing other pieces to break in a cascading effect.

In both games, your job is to build a stable structure, but the tools you have to work with are what really set the two games apart. Your primary tool in Tiki Towers is your team of monkeys. You do all the hard work of designing your tower by clicking and dragging, but the monkeys do the easy work of running back and forth for supplies and building it. You don’t have to tell them what to do -- just lay out your blueprint and the monkeys will go to work automatically. This system sometimes requires you to wait for your monkeys to move back and forth, and monkey management can become a part of the strategy as you don’t want to let those lazy monkeys go all the way back to the resting area while you’re plotting your next piece to lay or you’ll waste time waiting for them to come back.

An additional benefit your monkeys can bring you is "Bananamana". This is accomplished by simply clicking on the icon on the top left to assign as many monkeys as you want to this task. The more monkeys you assign, the faster you’ll gather. But this of course means you’ll have fewer monkeys assigned to build. Since your score is determined by how fast you get through a level, you’ll want to think carefully about how many monkeys you assign to each task. Don’t skimp on Bananamana entirely, because it allows you to purchase other items that you need to survive. Some are superior construction materials such as Iron bamboo, which will help you build a more stable foundation and can be critical to the building of larger, more complex structures that are less prone to breaking. Others are defensive items that will protect you from attack.

The story of Tiki Towers is that you are leading a band of good monkeys in their quest to conquer five islands from some evil monkeys. The reason these monkeys are the villains and you are the good guy is because you want to conquer their islands and leave them homeless. In each level, these evil monkeys will throw obstacles in your way with effects ranging from weakening your bamboo to casting fire at your structure. You’ll need to rely on your special items (paid for with Bananamana) and your architectural soundness to survive these attacks. You don’t actually fight the evil monkeys, but they are a welcome obstacle to keep the game exciting as you build.

The game is a good length for its price. There are five islands with four levels apiece, but each individual level can take a very long time. Perhaps too long, as by the time you reach the second island you will be building multiple structures in multiple directions to find hidden items, go around obstacles, and eventually reach the exit. These levels can take an hour or more to complete and stand in stark contrast to the short few minutes that World of Goo levels typically take. Part of the reason for this is the comparatively large levels, but a bigger reason is the slow pace. Your monkeys simply take a lot longer to work and don’t move around as fast as goo.

This resultantly longer, slower game is just a design difference and not really a problem. But what can make it a problem is that there is no way to save your progress in the middle of a level. If you’ve been playing for an hour and suddenly have to leave, all of your progress on the current level will be lost. This means that unlike most Wii games that encourage short term pick up and play attitudes, for Tiki Towers you’ll have to schedule time to play if you want to be sure you’ll have time to finish even one level.

The game has a multiplayer option, but it is really nothing to write home about. Instead of racing one another on the same level or in split screen, it is simply a co-op mode where cooperation here means you simply relinquish your Bananamana control to player 2. This is kind of fun and certainly worthy of inclusion, but it is not as satisfying as a full competitive multiplayer mode would have been.

Detractors have criticized the graphics in Tiki Towers, but they are not so bad as to diminish the experience. However, World of Goo clearly wins out in this department: we suspect the lower quality in graphics has something to do with the lower price tag, so at least the developers are passing the savings on to you. And really, games of this genre are more about the gameplay than about the visuals.

A more legitimate complaint with the visuals would be that the maps are so large that it can be difficult to find where a problem is occurring. Sure you are alerted that your tower is under attack with audio clues, but which tower? You may waste time hunting for the problem area when a small map with warning icons in one of the corners could have made things easier. But this is a small nitpick that does not detract from what is otherwise a solid gameplay experience.

Conclusion

Tiki Towers is not going to win any awards like World of Goo, but at a third of the price it is still well worth a look. Tiki’s world of bamboo makes for an entertaining game with bags of personality. Some of the later levels will take quite some time to solve so there is easily enough gameplay on offer here. The Bananamana system adds an extra bit of depth as you’ll need to be careful to achieve gold stars on some of the more demanding levels. Why not take a chance and monkey about with Tiki Towers? At just 500 Wii points, what have you got to lose?

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