Toki (aka Ju Ju) is very much a game of its time; the late 80s/early 90s were a time when the platformer was king. This of course meant that there were were an awful lot of indentikit games around – hordes of these games existed and many of them offered nothing new.
Toki stood out from the crowd when released by TAD in the arcades in 1989 – the main reason being the novel character around which the game is based – a fireball spitting monkey, and the excellent visuals and sounds. However, the game fell into the trap of many arcade platformers of the time – it was excruciatingly tough to play, and required the player to invest heavily in credits to get anywhere. This was due to the fact that the game had many sections that were more or less impossible to get by without repeated attempts; in other words, pure skill alone would not get you by certain places when first encountered – only by losing lives did the player “learn” how to negotiate a certain section. This also required a good memory refreshed by repeated play – exactly what the arcade owners wanted. Having said that some great games of the past have had parts in which investment and memory are required (the 2D shooter R-Type probably being one of the greatest) so it isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the game is entertaining.
Toki is an entertaining game – the protagonist after which the game is called is full of character and can be powered-up in interesting ways. This, coupled with good level layouts (despite the faults mentioned) and many interesting enemies makes it so. The port to the Megadrive is not an exact copy of the arcade game. Such gameplay mechanics simply become frustrating at home and it was rewritten by Sega and they have made a pretty good job of this while keeping the feel of the original.
First impressions of this game are not good – the intro sequence (showing Toki being turned into a monkey by his girlfriend-nabbing enemy) is ugly, but the title screen is decent and there is a nice shimmer effect on the main title itself. Toki also falls into that category of games on the Megadrive that use the muddier end of its colour pallette. The backgrounds do look a little dull – though there are nice parallax effects when scrolling and some levels have waterfall and lava flow backgrounds – they look OK. There is the obligatory ice level which does look rather nice – it is at least a change from the greens and browns of many of the levels.
The enemies look good though – and in many cases look at least as good as the arcade version. The Toki sprite looks OK and is animated reasonably well but does look a bit wooden when walking. He is quite “top-heavy” with a big head and the animators have used this to good advantage showing expressions on his face when spitting or during the life-loss sequence (which you will see a lot of!). Having said all this, the game looks and feels extremely “solid”. Technically, this game is pretty impressive and has it where it counts. The game can have a fair number of objects on-screen at any one time with no slowdown or flicker. This is perhaps at its most impressive when Toki gets powered up with bouncing spitballs, resulting in quite busy screens with lots of spitballs bouncing out of and back into the field of vision.
The play area has been zoomed out for the home game – you can see more around you resulting in you being aware of what’s coming up and removes the need for leaps of faith. Pressing up or down on the controller when Toki is stationary will scroll the screen up and down revealing overhead flying enemies or spike-filled pits which would relieve you of a life should you have jumped. “Look before you leap” is the motto of this game.
This is the sort of game that impresses with repeated play – the uninspiring initial look of the game soon gives way to appreciation when the little touches on the enemies are noticed and the overall solid feel becomes apparant. The game is no looker but has personality!
Sound is pretty good – there’s a decent soundtrack which is close to the original and changes on some levels. The main theme which you will hear a lot of is good – but can grate when you been put back to a restart point for the 20th time. Spot effects are excellent – certain objects make a satisfying crack when hit by the spitballs and the shooting sounds themselves are nice too. Some platforms disappear and reform and these events are hailed by sounds which can be a great help. Overall, sound is used very well and the game has a good solid arcade feel to it.
There’s no getting away from it – this is a platformer/shooter , so you have seen it all before. Collapsing platforms, ramps, vines, swings , underwater levels etc. – they are all present and correct , but it’s all done well. Some levels have shortcuts and become almost puzzle-like in places.
Enemies are dispatched either by jumping on them or by shooting spitballs – most enemies requiring multiple hits. To help you along there are many different powerups that in the main affect the spitballs – some make them larger and more powerful, some give you three way firing. The most satisfying is the flame powerup. There are others that imbue Toki with increased jumping ability or invincibility (sadly the American football helmet that made Toki impervious to attacks from above in the arcade game is missing). Powerups wear off after a period of time and you are warned it is about to disappear by a flashing icon on the status bar (which also shows the usual information such as score, lives, time left to complete a level etc.)
When firing, your control is good – you can aim straight or diagonally upwards and left/right but you can’t aim downwards.
There are food items to collect , some are lying around the levels, some are dropped by enemies. Collect 50 of these and you get an extra life. Many levels have different paths; some rewarding the player with caches of food or even an extra life token.
Collision detection gives you the benefit of the doubt – objects can brush Toki and you won’t lose a life for example – but this is one of the few times when this game is charitable.
Despite this being a rewrite of the arcade game and has been tamed from its coin eating origins, it is still tough – and its really a game for fans of the genre. You should be prepared to be sent back to the restart points many times. Each level is split into 3 sections and each section must be done in one go – lose a life and you are back to the start of the section. Some sections can be quite long so frustration can set in. Toki is no sprinter – he walks quite slowly and the impatient player will try to rush through after being sent back – and that is when the game will really punish you – a hasty jump and you hit an unseen enemy overhead, sending you back again.
Each main level has a boss; the earlier ones are dealt with without too much trouble but they get tough and require pinpoint placement of Toki and then fast accurate firing when the opportunity presents itself. The Megadrive controller’s Dpad can sometimes frustrate during the boss battles where quick and accurate use is required.
I can’t imagine many modern gamers tolerating such a game as this – many mainstream gamers of today wouldn’t get to the end of the 1st level of this before giving up. It is gaming from a different era when people were happy with this “trial and error” style of play. It isn’t without merit, but unless you lived through a certain era I can’t see many younger gamers enjoying this plain looking old-school platformer. This is hardcore.
This game will last you quite a while – the default “Normal” level is challenging enough for most and there is a slightly more manageable “Easy” level. There are 4 difficulty levels in all; the “Hard” level presents you with more enemies and enemies that require more hits to dispatch. The highest , “Hardest” level is insane – there are no powerups available and as a result is far harder than even the tortuous arcade original. It would require a monk-like devotion to get anywhere when played at this level.
There’s a 2 player “alternate turns” option if you can find a masochistic friend to join in.
The options screen lets you set lives, continues and extra life score boundaries so you can make things easier but for people of a certain age this just isn’t done!
This is a tough game and doesn’t greet you with pretty graphics but its worth the effort. The game has character and I find it an enjoyable mix of difficulty, solid feel and subtle charm. Fans of the arcade original will enjoy this since its essentially a remix of that game.
A retro gamer and occassional writer..