When it originally appeared on the PSP late last year, Tokobot delivered a novel platforming experience with a strong puzzle element and a unique future-antiquities setting. Tecmo has sanded down and polished up the package for the PlayStation 2 with Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri, which distinguishes itself with new levels, expanded storytelling, and some minor mechanical tweaks. More talking anime heads between levels and before boss fights isn't much of a bonus, and the gameplay alterations feel a little inconsequential, but more levels is definitely a good thing, since a short run time was one of the most prominent flaws in the original Tokobot.
Though the wide-eyed anime art style of Tokobot Plus feels a little generic, the game's setup is interesting. During the opening narration, it's explained that thousands of years ago, there was an advanced civilization that developed all kinds of technological marvels before the civilization itself mysteriously vanished, leaving its vast machinery and robotic caretakers as the only evidence of its existence. Without much understanding of how this ancient technology works, the current, relatively primitive civilization has since built itself on top of the ruins of the old with the development of steam power. You play the part of Bolt, a speechless young boy in the employ of an archaeologist, and during a fateful dig you uncover a group of knee-high automatons, which you dub as Tokobots, that take an immediate affection to you. The voice acting is of standard-issue TV anime quality, and the story itself almost immediately devolves into lots of good-guy-bad-guy back-and-forth, but the steampunk premise helps set the game apart and gives the proceedings a bit more weight.
The Tokobots will heedlessly follow you anywhere you go, which is usually some giant, ancient ruin filled with puzzles, unfriendly guardian robots, and some treacherous grave robbers. On his own, Bolt is a regular guy. The Tokobots serve as a Swiss army knife of sorts, though, and he can accomplish a lot when he uses them in unison through a process called "jointing." There are three basic Tokobot formations that can be switched at the touch of a button, and each allows for specific abilities. Depending on their formation, Tokobots can be stacked into a ladder, used as a springboard, swung like a giant club, spun like a helicopter blade, and more.
You'll find more Tokobots to add to your entourage early on, and as you progress, you'll earn new ways to use existing formations. You'll also earn overdrive abilities, which let your Tokobots change their shape entirely and momentarily form into a single robot. Overdrives can be useful both for combat and solving puzzles, and over the course of the game you'll transform your Tokobots into a sword-wielding samurai robot, a crane, a giant hammer, a catapult, and more. Additionally, you can purchase power upgrades for your overdrive forms, as well as time-attack versions of levels you've previously explored and health vials in between levels by trading in artifacts you find during your adventures for cold, hard cash.
Tokobot Plus is at its best when it focuses on the puzzles, which can be tough but usually quite intuitive, and the difficulty ramps up at a reasonable pace. The game gets a lot of mileage out of your basic abilities, and it takes its time in familiarizing you with new mechanics as they're introduced. You always know when you need to employ a specific overdrive ability, as the game presents you with large, well-marked floor tiles, and it's rare that you'll be unsure whether you're looking at a puzzle that you can solve or a dead end. The combat is also pretty straightforward, since there are only a handful of enemies and all of them wear their weaknesses in plain sight. Some of the boss battles can get a little tricky, but even then it doesn't take long to figure out their attack patterns. It can get hectic when the game throws three or four enemies at you at once, but it seems like a lot of the difficulty in combat stems from the game's camera, which moves slowly and has a tendency to get snagged on bits of the environments.
You'll occasionally have to backtrack to an area that was previously inaccessible as you gain new abilities, but the game is mostly quite linear. Though Tokobot Plus introduces two additional challenge levels not found in the original Tokobot, it's still a rather short game, something that's more pronounced now that it's on a full-fledged console. This also holds true for the game's presentation. The game's crisscrossing of ancient tombs and advanced technology gives the ruins you'll explore an interesting feel, but they're also small and boxy. You just don't get the sense that you're exploring particularly vast spaces, which makes the intermittent frame rate problems puzzling. Some alternately upbeat and urgent music fits the game's cheery tone well, but most of the sound is sufficient and not particularly remarkable.
Despite its much longer title, Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri isn't that different from the plainly named Tokobot for the PSP. In the transition from a handheld to a console, though, the game has lost some of its charm, and its relatively limited scope has become more pronounced. The basic puzzle-solving is still good fun, and there's an accessibility here that makes it a good fit for those with less experience with platformers, but the new content won't be enough to draw back those who've already played through the original.