Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri Hands-On
We guide Tecmo's robotic minions as they storm the PlayStation 2.
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Tecmo's Tokobot was a charming platformer that stood as one of the best PSP games from last year. The original game centered on a young hero named Bolt who found himself the caretaker and master of the mysterious tokobots, ancient robots who came packing a plethora of surprises. In the wake of the positive reaction to the PSP game, Tecmo has opted to bring the title to the PlayStation. However, rather than simply port the PSP game to the PS2, Tecmo has taken the opportunity to serve up a director's cut/special edition-style experience. We got a tour of what to expect from the upcoming game courtesy of a visit from Tecmo reps, who showed off a work-in-progress version of the game.
If you're familiar with the original Tokobot, you'll be prepared for Tokobot Plus' story. The game essentially follows the PSP's game narrative and casts you as aspiring archaeologist Bolt. An intro cinema will give you a rundown of the game's world, Moritari, and how, in the past, a once-thriving civilization created a device called the eternal engine, which helped them live in peace and prosperity. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and the ancient civilization eventually faded away. Unfortunately, there was no successor for its advanced technology, which lay unused in massive ancient ruins. Thousands of years later, a new society sprang up and began to base its technology on the ancient model, using steam to power robots called karakuri. To continue the development of that technology, archaeological institutions were created to continue investigating the ancient ruins in search of more viable tech to use.
That's where you come in. Young Bolt is an employee of one Dr. Canewood. During his first expedition for Canewood, Bolt discovers a heretofore unknown model of robot from the ancient civilization, which is dubbed "tokobot." Bolt imprints on the versatile little bots as their master because he's the first thing they see upon activation, so they unquestioningly follow his commands. Thanks to the aid of his new robotic minions, Bolt's stock rises and he's handed the more challenging assignments. You'll start the game as Bolt and head off on a new assignment in which he will uncover a plot that threatens Moritari and puts him and his newfound buddies to the test. The story will unfold via a mix of story sequences that feature static images, talking heads, and in-game conversations that will yield new information as you make discoveries and confer with your associates back at the lab.
Our demo of the game showed off new and old content to give us a sense of how the title is being converted to the PlayStation 2. First up is the old. Tokobot Plus will feature the same basic structure and flow of its predecessor. The core gameplay mechanics of the game remain the same and find you working with your group of bots to explore the world. The list of new content is considerably longer, thanks to the team's decision to expand on the PSP game as much as they could. You'll now find 10 levels in the game, up from the PSP's eight, that you'll access by exploring the original levels and finding their hidden entrances. These new levels will offer challenging puzzles for you to solve on your way to find their hidden treasures. The additional levels complement the expanded story, which offers an expanded storytelling style that will apparently go into more detail on the happenings in Bolt's adventures.
The old Karakuri combinations, which allowed you to do some Voltron-style morphing with your bots to create larger, more powerful creations, have been retooled into "overdrives" in the new game. The move triggers one of four different attacks that are specific to each of the transformations. The attacks can be powered up three times, which increases their damage; this comes in handy. The time attack mode has also been revamped in that you don't have to finish the game to access it. Completing a level as part of the main game will unlock its corresponding time attack challenge. The game's controls have been tweaked to take advantage of the extra buttons and analog stick on the PlayStation 2 controller. You'll now be able to adjust the camera with the right analog stick; though the functionality isn't perfect, it helps quite a bit when navigating the world.
The visuals in the game, while still modest in scope, are a noticeable step up from the PSP game. A new anime-style cinematic introduces you to the gang in the game. Bolt and company sport a bit more detail and an overall level of polish that results in a nice console makeover for the in-game graphics. Though there are definite rough spots in the version of the game we saw (the frame rate dipped in a few spots, and the camera took some getting used to), the game appears to be shaping up well on the PlayStation 2.
The audio in the game we played was still unfinished but already had the key elements we expect from a Tokobot game. The tunes are insanely catchy, and the sound effects walk the line between sparse and cute. Though the unfinished version we were checking out seemed a bit too spare with its audio, things seem headed in a good direction.
Based on what we've seen, Tokobot Plus is looking like a solid platformer that brings the inspired zaniness of the PSP game to the PS2. It looks as though the original game is being expanded on in some smart ways, thanks to improved visuals and refined gameplay. If you somehow missed the original game on the PSP, you'll be glad to know that the PlayStation 2 title looks like it could be a good way to make up for lost time. If the game can retain the PSP title's charm and addictive qualities, it should shape up to be a nifty platformer that should be worth a look. Tokobot Plus is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game in the coming months.