Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Video Game Review: Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PlayStation 2)

I was first introduced to Ty the Tasmanian Tiger way back in my first attempt at sixth grade when a kid who'd moved in down the street had it for that newfangled hell spawn called "X-Box". The only level I'd gotten to witness, and only for a very brief moment (my reputation as the school scapegoat had apparently preceded me) was the shark section of "Ship Rex". Thinking back on it, all I can remember is Ty scrambling onto the raft at the end of the segment, Snacker (oops, wrong game) greedily nibbling his heels. Oh, and me asking again and again "Can you kill the shark?" without an answer. Ah, yes, the good old days.

Anyways, that little segment stuck with me for whatever reason, but I had always checked Ty off my list as being "For the cool people," which, in Natespeak, means "Devoid of effort and game design and made specifically to cater to an audience of morons who think attitude alone decides the quality of a game." I was... kind of right. But also way, way wrong. While Ty the Tasmanian Tiger does fall into the "Trying to be too cool" trope, it definitely also falls into the "Actual game" category of entertainment. What it does wrong is mostly aesthetic (with a juvenile opinion of dark and brooding), although there are a few major flaws which prevent it from being a truly awesome gaming experience.

Which is saying something, because this is literally a tiny bit of effort away from being Banjo-Kazooie levels of awesome. (Oh god, Nate. Media is in the present tense, stop fucking that up!)

Ty is actually a very similar game to Banjo-Kazooie, and I'm pretty sure that was by design. Not only does it have similar game play to that franchise, but a lot of the jingles are very familiar sounding. For instance, there are characters known as "Bilbies" which serve the exact same roll as Banjo's "Jinjos": find five of them in each stage. Each time you find one a banjo-sounding riff is played and they do an adorable little dance, and it's a nice touch, but it did have the uncanny ability to make me forget which game I was playing and the unfortunate side-effect of making me wish I was playing Banjo instead.(Maybe I'll do that next...)

The similarities to Banjo don't end there, and I'm about to go off on a bit of a tangent when I get into this. Ty the Tasmanian Tiger is a 3D platforming game with an emphasis on exploration and, in the nature of last-decade platformers, finding all of the items in a stage. Each stage has ten Golden Cogs, eight Thunder Eggs (which are your Power Stars and Jiggies for this game), five Bilbies, three-hundred opals, and an unspecified number of invisible concept art. Also, some stages include additional collection quests, such as finding all the lost children.

A lot of people (recently, anyways. I don't remember this attitude existing very much until the past half-decade or so) seem to bitch about what they dub "Collect-a-Thons", which are games which have a heavy emphasis on the acquisition of in-game items in order to progress. Banjo-Kazooie is often considered an example of this, though the most frequently used example would be Donkey Kong 64, a great game which has been shit upon for no real particular reason. Because it's great and doesn't deserve all the hate. Anyways, people seem to hate so-called "Collect-a-Thons", but that's not an attitude I really understand. I don't view that as a fault in the game, I don't see how it can be considered "distracting" when it is the central focus of the game. Literally these types of games are scavenger hunts, and there's nothing wrong with that. As a fan of real life scavenger hunts, I find these games to be outright awesome. It's not a flaw to have tons of collectible items which need to be sought out, and I've noticed a sharp decline in my interest in the market since this style of game fell out of style.

I mean, I can understand inserting such a hunt into a game which is not centered around it (such as Knuckles' stages in the Sonic Adventure titles, which break the flow), but that's not what any of these games are. These are games built specifically for scavenger hunts, and they're pretty damn fun. I'm going to go ahead and dub "Scavenger Hunt" as a sub-genre, and also go out and say it's my favorite one. Decided and done.

With all that said, Ty does have one major flaw when it comes to implementing its core philosophy: there are no landmarks. In true nearly-budget fashion, all of the surrounding areas in any given stage look pretty much exactly like the rest of that stage. Part of this is because the level designers were extraordinarily lazy (and in a lot of the later levels the stage elements are entirely nonsensical), and part of this is because the textures are more "Detailed" than earlier games of this genre. This is another tangent and another trend which began with the later years of the PS2 and X-Box generations. The tendency to clutter textures with layers and layers of detail. The result, more often than nut, is a very messy looking landscape which hides active objects all too well. Enemies and items will pop up out of nowhere, despite having been there all along. It also makes it difficult for one to keep track of their location, because everything just looks like a big mess. Ty has this issue, and it hurts it than it hurts most games considering the entire game is about scouring every corner of every stage. This is difficult when the corners all look exactly the same. This trend has made a lot of games simply unplayable for me. Fortunately, Ty was not that bad. Actually, most levels have fairly decent textures. It's mainly the rain forest ones that get me.

However, that still doesn't resolve the situation of no distinctive landmarks. In Banjo-Kazooie and other such games, you know exactly where you are at all times simply because of what path you're currently running up. You do not get lost because each area is defined in a unique manner, and it's easy to compartmentalize which unique puzzle or section is in which part of the map. With Ty you start off as trained to remember things as existing at the "Beginning" or "End" of the early stages, but this fails in the later levels which are more open (to a fault, I'd say). Additionally, these later stages are not designed well enough to compensate for their ridiculous size, and players will find themselves spending large amounts of time circling areas they've already completed before realizing: "Oh, I've done this already." I think this issue is primarily from lazy designers, who reused the same gimmick several times per stage. I mean, it's cool to see the same puzzle utilized with some increased difficulties, but laying out the same circle of stone pillars in five locations of the map is not a good idea.

I also had issues with the game controls, which were fairly slippery, the hit detection, which was really weird and would sometimes not register that, yes, Ty should be grabbing that ledge, and the camera, which doesn't work even remotely. It's interesting that Ty, an early 2000's sixth-generation platforming game, could not match up to the camera and character controls of early N64 titles. Not to mention the invisible walls, which are actually used more in this game than in anything on the N64 (that I've played). Typically I don't actually mind invisible walls as map boundaries, but here there are some which serve almost no purpose other than to prevent you from... from what? From climbing onto the wooden platform that was a school house? Why am I not allowed to hop on that one platform and run over it instead of having to make my way the whole way around? It makes no sense, and it's pretty bothersome.

I've done an awful lot of ripping so far, and not much praising, which is weird, because I genuinely enjoy this game. Despite its flaws, I had a lot of fun with Ty, and can't wait to get my teeth into the sequel. I suppose that—even though it has awful beach stages and pretty shitty cinematics, terrible forest textures, an a crap camera—its pros manage to outweigh all of its cons. There's lots to do and explore, of course tons to collect, and I feel like a lot more thought went into designing the challenges than the levels around them. Even defeating the enemies is a puzzle, because you've got all of one attack that will manage to damage each kind of enemy. Some require boomerangs, some need to be bit, and some need both. Not to mention the characters, which are largely very memorable beasties. I actually remember the entirety of the cast, including the minor folks, which is something I can't say for many other games. The music is nice, and actually catchy. Really, even though this game has a host of annoying issues, they're all easily overlooked by how great the rest of the game really is.

Remember at the beginning when I mentioned that the flaws only knock the game away from being great? I wasn't lying. That's all they do. They don't make this a bad game by any measure, and at least one of the "Flaws" is actually a plus in my book. Because of them, I can't give this game a super awesome score... but there's too much good to give it a low score. Ty, I will replay you someday. Until then, you may be satisfied with your "C". seven out of ten for Ty the Tasmanian Tiger for the PS2.

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