Of all the ‘80s and ‘90s retro games getting modern remakes these days, it’s probably fair to say that Toki wasn’t exactly on most gamers’ wishlists. While it was an entertaining action platformer back in the day, it’s one of those titles that very much remained in the 20th century and is rarely brought up in today’s gaming conversations.
It seems someone thought it was worth sprucing up, though, and we’re more or less glad they did: it isn’t the greatest example of the genre, but it’s a fun one nonetheless and with a new lick of paint it certainly looks the part. Every sprite, enemy and background has been hand-drawn by manga artist Philippe Dessoly, and as a result, the game is visually tremendous.
If you aren’t familiar with Toki, it was a 1989 arcade platformer that was ported to a number of home systems, including the NES (where it was made easier) and the Mega Drive (where it was renamed Toki: Going Ape Spit). It tells the story of Toki, a tribesman whose much-adored princess Miho is kidnapped by an evil witch doctor called Bashtar. As if having his idol nicked wasn’t bad enough, Toki is also turned into a gorilla (because reasons).
As luck would have it, Toki discovers that his transformation has an odd side effect that his evil foe presumably didn’t expect: the ability to spit deadly bullets. Cue six stages of platforming frolics as Toki heads off in search of Miho, gobbing a load of shrapnel at any hapless creatures foolish enough to get in his way.
In a way, this remake of Toki is similar to the titular character himself: it may have a brand new look, but underneath lies the same primitive heart. Fans of the arcade original will feel right at home with this new version, as the entirety of the game’s level design has been lifted straight from the coin-op. The developer has also resisted the urge to enhance Toki’s moveset: he can still only shoot to the side, upwards or diagonally, meaning accurate spitting remains the order of the day.
While it’s arguably a good thing that it’s remained true to the original, though, this does mean Toki shares another characteristic with the arcade version: it can get pretty difficult. Each of its six stages are rife with tricky moments, previously designed to put the player on their backside as quickly as possible so they could either put more money into the machine or step aside for the next player to have a go.
Many of these are deliberately nasty tricks designed to catch the player out the first time around. More than once, for example, you’ll come across a power-up in the air and jump up to collect it, only for a ghost enemy to appear right in front of you and kill you. Often, dying will be down to your own doing, but there are still a fair number of situations where you’ll feel aggrieved because your death was cheaper than a charity shop on Black Friday.
This mainly comes down to the fact that Toki dies with one hit, which means even the slightest slip-up can mean a life lost. It’s particularly precarious during boss fights: bosses require a hell of a lot of shots to take down, but a mere brush against them and it’s curtains. The checkpointing system is generous for the most part – lose to a boss and you’ll start off right before it – but lose all your lives and continue and you’ll be chucked right back to the start of the level.
Even on the game’s easiest difficulty setting (which is the default and feels most like the original version), it’s still likely you won’t make it to the end the first time around with the generous helping of nine lives and nine credits you’re given. Ramp it up to the hardest setting – where you’re only given two lives and three credits and enemies take multiple hits to kill – and you’ll be lucky to reach Level 2.
There’s a reason for this, of course. Because it’s an arcade game it’s actually really short, so this increased difficulty is there to force repeated attempts before you see the end credits. Once you’ve learned the ins and outs of each of the game’s six stages, have memorised where the cheap bits are, and know how to beat the bosses you can easily have it rinsed in well under half an hour: the challenge comes in getting to that point, which will take a few hours of practice.
That said, if you’re an experienced platform game fan you still aren’t going to struggle with Toki too much. Your first playthrough may be a death-riddled affair but it’s very much a “fool me once” situation and once you’ve got a handle on its various sneaky tricks you’ll have it beaten fairly quickly. Once you do, there really isn’t much reason to go back to it other than beating your own high score (it’s a shame there aren’t online leaderboards for this).
This would all be well and good were it a relatively low-priced eShop release, but given that it’s $29.99 and we had it licked within a day you’ve really got to want more value for money than that. As it is, we’d struggle to fully recommend it because no matter how gorgeous it looks – and it really does – at its heart you’re still paying 30 bucks for a reskinned version of a 30-year-old arcade game.
Toki is an absolutely beautiful remaster, with fantastic hand-drawn backgrounds, brilliant character animation and impressive boss designs. Aesthetics only go so far, though, and while the game itself is fun to play (if a little cheap with its deaths at times) the reality is it’s an arcade game at heart. As such, its six stages won’t last you too long, especially if you’re the target audience – someone who remembers Toki back in the day and has continued to play platformers for the three decades that followed – and once it’s done there’s no real replay value.