Monday 14 June 2010

Toki: Going Ape Spit

Remember Toki? Of course you don't. It was a little arcade release by TAD Corporation about a man rescuing a woman, the twist this time being the man was changed into a spitting monkey. It was big on the Atari Lynx... and every other platform under the sun...

But in 1991 it also saw a release for the Sega Mega Drive under the title of "Toki: Going Ape Spit". The name alone draws people in to see what wonders wait inside. The promise of an enhanced remake of Toki makes a few others excited, though I can't imagine there's a huge fanbase these days (even with that HD remake). Wikipedia's current sentence on the game is as follows: "This version lacks the non-spit power-ups, but it features additional levels and more detailed graphics.", let's see if that's accurate.

The major problem with the original Toki was that the player was a bit on the slow side. Despite having shoot-'em-up elements to it, it wasn't quite as frantic as a normal shoot-'em-up, so though it saw some success, it isn't widely remembered by video game enthusiasts. You would think after a couple of years these problems would have been noted and addressed, but what lies in Toki: Going Ape Spit is about the opposite of what an "enhanced remake" should offer.

It's worth noting at this point that Sega Mega Drive hardware would have had a big fight on its hands trying to reach the "enhanced" status it supposedly promised - the arcade hardware powering Toki is much more meaty than the Mega Drive's. As you may have already noticed, the title screen wasn't even changed when the game was ported over, and though it still manages the funky transitional effects, questions can already be raised about the game's quality. In Japan, I'm fairly sure the name didn't change, and that it was branded "JuJu Densetsu" with its other siblings on rival consoles.

The rules and gameplay are identical to that found in the arcade release - Toki (or JuJu if you're playing in Japanese mode) can spit in various directions to defeat enemies, or jump on their heads. Your task is to simply get from A to B, and you only have one hit point for doing so. The Mega Drive game, as said by Wikipedia, lacks some of the powerups of the arcade version, but this doesn't need to be a problem, right?

Though loosely inspired by the arcade game's levels, the Mega Drive version of Toki decided to extend the levels to produce a bigger game. The problem? It didn't bother to provide the graphics. In Toki, the scenery is always changing, and therefore two screenshots don't tend to look the same. In Toki: Going Ape Spit, the graphics always look the same. Even the later levels don't change that much.

As well as this, the graphics are let down by the fact that it was 1991, and developers hadn't quite mastered the art of 16-bit graphics yet. The tiles are noticeably repetitive and murky, and the atmosphere no longer feels as vibrant as it did in the arcades. To make matters worse, the Mega Drive's interpretation of the arcade's theme tunes isn't brilliant either. Because the levels are longer, the music repeats more often, and it's not nice on the ears. None of this is a problem in other copies of the game because they're built like the arcade version, but with Ape Spit... I reckon more effort was put into the box art than the in-game graphics.

One of the big issues I had with this game was the camera, which I must say must be one of the worst 2D cameras I've ever come across (and that includes the pirates). In Toki: Going Ape Spit, you're often moving up and down the screen, but the camera doesn't bother to adjust itself properly as you do so. You have to manually tune it using the up and down keys. You're never entirely sure where you're going to land as you can't often see your target, and because Toki's short jumping distance and slow speed (yes that wasn't fixed) is still an issue, there isn't much confidence given to the player as there's not much room for error. It can also lead to the fabled "enemies you can't see attacking you" problem, which we really should have grown out of by this stage, especially in games without health bars.

The level design is dreadful. It's about as dull, bland, linear and uninteresting as you can get, and is almost on par with the levels I used to make when I purposely went out to make bad games. The bosses have been moved onto separate stages, and the whole thing just seems like a very rushed job. Considering that features were removed, it's hard to see how anyone thought this was a better alternative to say, the Amiga port of Toki, or the Atari ST version. What doesn't help, I suppose, is that there's a lot of people who didn't think the arcade game was up to scratch either! A bad game made worse in some minds.

So overall, a very depressing title that brings out the worst of what the Mega Drive has to offer. Though it's nice to extend a short game, this certainly wasn't the way to do it. Might want to avoid this one.

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