When Tokobot was first announced, I was really hyped for the PSP to finally get a fresh, innovative game of its own. With the possible exception of Lumines, the portable has seen and endless stream of racers, ports, and shovelware. While some of these titles have been good, or even exceptional, it was just nice to see a developer really try and expand upon what the PSP is capable of doing. Tokobot fills a canyon of a gap in the system's line-up, providing light-hearted, adventure-platforming action where only the iffy Ape Escape has been as yet.
However, unlike that title, Tokobot is a completely new game from Tecmo where a young explorer named Bolt controls a small army of cute, little robots who can join together and shapeshift into new contraptions used to navigate the ancient ruins which you are asked to traverse. Bolt can't do much on his own except jump and open doors, so its a good thing that the Tokobots are around to help you foil the plan of an evil general bent on taking over the world.
The Tokobots can be arranged in one of three key formations, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages. The first is a horizontal line which can be used to spin around and activate gears, the second is a circular formation used to pound foes or activate floor switches, and the third lines up the Tokobots behind you so that you can swing them at magnets and create bridges or ladders. Each of these three basic forms has an upgrade later in the game that allows you to reach new areas. Outside of these techniques, though, are a number of super combinations used to solve specific puzzles or give your combat abilities an extra punch. They range from a samurai robot warrior to a train to a wheel or a battle tank. You'll use these combinations far less than the basic ones because they require the use of parts that you can gather from enemies and boxes. On top of that, the combat forms excluded, most of these super combinations can only be used on certain tiles. This makes puzzle solving a little easier than it should be – the game almost always tells you what you need to use and where, except for the few instances which it doesn't and those can be frustrating. The puzzles you encounter are still enjoyable and require a certain measure of manual dexterity, but a little less hand-holding might have made it a more challenging experience.
That said, it seems to be a miracle that the game has any puzzles at all. With so many platformers these days favoring gunplay and speed over exploration and, well, platforming, Tokobot scratched a long-festering itch for me. If you're a fan of games like ICO and Zelda, this game is almost entirely made up of environmental navigation puzzles and its nice to see a platformer return to what it does best. In fact, combat isn't all that big of a deal here. There are enemies which you must defeat – most of them vulnerable to a certain type of attack – but Tokobot places no emphasis on this aspect of the game. The boss battles can be very entertaining, but Bolt's slow-movement and the exploration-focused abilities of the combinations sometimes make combat a little irritating. Save for the aforementioned boss battles, perhaps it would've been better to replace enemies with more traps and other non-combative elements.
As much enjoyment as Tokobot can provide, there are a few rough spots which mar the totality of the experience. The camera is a bit odd. Most of the time it is manageable, but in tight spaces it will occasionally become stuck behind a block or wall and in other instances, the camera will be fixed in a certain viewpoint which makes several platforming sections difficult to complete due to a bad angle. When you have a hard time telling where and when you can jump, these parts of the game can be very frustrating. It doesn't help that if you fall down a pit, you'll often get kicked back to the last room (instead of restarting in the same one), at times forcing you to repeat easy puzzles to get back to the one you had trouble with.
Also, the scope of the game isn't as expansive as I would've liked. There are only 5 areas or so, the last one being more of a boss gauntlet than a full-fledged level. About halfway through playing, the game also requires you to go back over old territory to find a hidden spot you couldn't access before and retrieve an item from it. The environments are fun the first time through, but Tokobot's length seems artifically extended by this quest, a la the Triforce hunt in Nintendo's Zelda: The Wind Waker. It still took me a good 8-10 hours to complete, but Tecmo could've done a lot more in this regard. There is a time trial for each area that opens up after beating the main game and your performance can open up bonuses, but even that can become tedious due to the fact that individual areas can take around 15 minutes to complete on average.
Outside of gameplay design, though, Tokobot is a well-rounded experience. The aesthetics are wonderful and the load times are nearly non-existent (which is great compared to one of the key complaints surrounding most PSP games). The environments aren't overly complex, but they look nice and smooth. Tokobot is an excellent example of good use of few art assets – you'll see some repetition, but the levels are designed well enough for it not to be a bother and the occasional hieroglyphics or ancient murals help. The music is likewise as good. Tokobot's tunes are simple, but well-composed and whimsical. They're the kind of songs that'll get stuck in your head after awhile and I can't find any way to fault the game's compositions.
Tokobot seems like a good setup for a sequel. The concepts are there and the game is well-designed in most regards, but the complaints found in most reviews are quite valid. The controls and camera need a little work and the supporting cast (as well as the Tokobots) could use some kind of personality outside of being cute and/or evil. Still, Tecmo has released the game at a $30 MSRP, making it cheaper than most PSP titles to date and it is worth supporting at that price.