Best Of 2022: Tinykin's Larger-Than-Life Alien Setting Brought Me Right Back To Toy Story
Sometimes the smallest things can be larger than life.
Home means a lot of things for different people. It can be a typical house with bedrooms and a kitchen or the memory of the moment Buzz Lightyear spreads his wings and proudly proclaims that he isn't flying, he's "falling with style." It meant something slightly different for Splashteam's Romain Claude and his 2019 Global Game Jam team.
"It's about gathering friends and bringing them to a safe place," he told GameSpot of his project's concept. "It's about going out and bringing them home."
The theme for the 2019 Global Game Jam was "what home means to you." That prompt turned into an early version of Tinykin, where the player travels out into a dark forest in order to bring creatures to the safety of home. That concept, which was similar to The Wild at Heart or Pikmin, eventually evolved into the platforming adventure that explores an insect civilization living in a human-sized home that's stuck in the '90s.
Claude and his team didn't think there were enough games set in gigantic homes or toy shops, so they set out to create on their own. What they didn't intend was to take players back to one of the greatest animated franchises of all time: Toy Story.
Jumping through Tinykin's wondrous bathroom boat parties and bedroom circuses brought me straight back to the awe-inspiring exploration of exploring the Davis home in Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue.
I was barely nine years old when I fought robots under the bed, flew over giant blades of grass in the backyard, and dodged boiling water while hopping across the kitchen counter as a living piece of plastic. While I knew I was only exploring the contents of an average home, shrinking me down to the size of Buzz Lightyear let me squeeze into crevices and uncover secrets I never saw coming. It made exploring a dusty attic and empty living room an adventure.
Going back and playing a re-released Toy Story 2 in 2022 is nowhere near as magical as when I was nine, but Tinykin recaptures that magic. It turns everyday rooms into mystical playgrounds.
Bathrooms are turned into lakehouse ragers, bedrooms are turned into magical carnivals, and a hallway is the great in-between that connected these room worlds. The little design choices, like having a VIP club in a cabinet above the rest of a level, make every room a delightful surprise.
"Initially having the house wasn't helpful, it was difficult," Claude said. "Inside the house there [are] a billion ways to be creative. It's not easy because all the things you find in the house are kind of boring. The point is to twist today's life into funny things you can play with."
Splashteam didn't want the world to be empty, so they populated it with a civilization of insects like silverfish and praying mantises. Then they thought about how everyday objects would be used by an army of talking ants.
"A table becomes a church," Claude said. "Chairs and fences were built with matches. It became very funny."
While Splashteam was inspired by platformers like Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter, they had never played games like Chibi Robo, Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Toy Story 2. Those games weren't design influences, but they were the first thing that came to mind for players.
"They are games we know, it's in our culture," Claude said. "But we never actually played them."
Few games can stand the test of time. Playing Toy Story 2 or Super Mario 64 today can be fun, but many developments to game design philosophy have been made in the last 25 years. Incorporating those into Tinykin, while capturing the aesthetic of those platformers, helped it grow into something more. Splashteam even took one unexpected reference to add depth to the gigantic home.
"The way we built the house, some people in the team got inspired by Dark Souls," Claude said. "They have a way of building the world that is connected."
Tinykin's modern design choices, like having a bar of soap replicate a skateboard or a bubble a Fortnite-like glider, put this little world in the palm of my hand. The wonder only lasted about five hours as I sped through the house, but those five hours brought me back to Buzz Lightyear.
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