Although he's been in existence for over a decade, the odds are you may not have come across the dumpy little chicken named Toki Tori before. Originally a game rather late to the GameBoy Colour party, the plump chick's puzzler didn't really enjoy much success, as the console's successor, the GameBoy Advance, launched mere months later. But as the saying goes, you can't keep a good chicken down, which is why he returned almost a decade later for a downloadable remake of the original game for Nintendo's Wii. Vaguely reminiscent of the old Lemmings games, the goal of each level was to navigate your yellow bird friend around each maze to collect all of his un-hatched brothers and sisters by making clever use of a limited number of items. Each egg had to be picked up in a specific order if you were to have any chance of finishing the level, otherwise you'd find yourself up a virtual creek without a paddle. Or in Toki Tori's case, a crate, bubble suit or ghost-trapping porta-hole.
Doing away with his arsenal of pocket bridges, teleporters and freeze-ray guns, Toki Tori 2 for the Wii U instead relies on just two moves to solve a myriad of puzzles - a stomp and a chirp. Instead of items, the world is thronging with a veritable menagerie of creatures, from box-loving hermit crabs to kleptomaniac blue birds and strange glowing green blobs that light up every darkened cave, with each and every character you come across being affected by your measly move set. Whether you can stamp your foot to make them fall from the sky, or tweet (as in, making a sound, not sending a short message) to call them a little bit closer, the animals quickly become your new items - and it's up to you to figure out how to use them to make your way through the levels.
As you might expect, a fair amount of trial and error is in order here, as you wander round the level stomping and tweeting at everything in sight to begin with, and start to discover how things interact with each other. For example, frogs are particularly keen on the strange purple-berries-with-faces that hang from the ceiling in certain parts of levels - stomp to knock one of these to the ground, and the frog will bound towards it, gobbling it up so fast he ends up swelling up. Stomping close to the now-inflated frog will see him burp out a bubble which traps our titular chicken, sending him floating up towards previously unreachable platforms. As time goes on, the interactions between creatures become more crucial and more complex, often requiring more precise timings and quicker reactions on top of some convoluted puzzle solving.
Unfortunately, the game hits a pretty big stumbling block quite early on - with no more than a brief blink-and-you'll-miss-it screen showing the dumpy chicken's two moves when you start up a new game, you're left to your own devices. With nary a signpost in sight and no clues as to whether you're even going the right way, Toki Tori 2 can seem more intimidating than it really needs to be, and you'll find yourself quickly resorting to spamming tweets and stomps in the hope something happens and you can progress. Things often feel too random to be rewarding, and sometimes cross over into downright infuriating with how finicky many of the beasties (and by extension the puzzles) can be. Frustratingly, there's also nothing to tell you you've managed to make a particular puzzle completely unsolvable (and there are several that can be made unsolvable, usually due to something as simple as moving a block in the wrong direction), so you're often left shuffling creatures around in vain with nothing to prompt you it's time to reset.
Not all the creatures that inhabit the worlds are friendly though, and it's never immediately obvious which ones you can use to progress through the level, and which will instead kill you outright, which gives the game more of a feeling of luck and trial and error than anything. In fact, it reminded us a bit of indie darling greyscale puzzler Limbo, but with a fat yellow chicken rather than a silhouette of a young boy with bright white laser eyes - both games have much the same minimalist, figure-it-out-for-yourself often confusing trial and error game play, except one is much more sinisterly creepy.
Yet the lack of explanation rears its head in other places, too. For the first few hours of the game, you'd be forgiven for thinking Toki Tori 2 is simply a collection of levels with no real relation to each other - after all, once you've managed to find your way through the level, the game flips to a world map, and it's on to the next level. It's only after you've been playing for a while that you realise many of the levels actually interconnect, with branching paths in each of the levels leading you to new, different levels. What's most infuriating is that we only found this out after we'd completed a particular level and found no new ones opening up any more - meaning we needed to trek back through each level looking for new ways to irritate the local wild-life with no clue whether you're even in the right stage, let alone heading down the right mental path.
While we can kind of see what the developers were aiming for, Toki Tori's minimalistic approach is it's undoing, as a total lack of sign-posting or hints of any kind mean that once you're stuck, you're stuck for a long time. It's disappointing, as the game could have easily offered players the choice - letting the 'hardcore' find their way around on their own if they'd prefer, while making the game accessible for newcomers - making it a stark contrast to it's predecessor, which held your hand, and showed you exactly how each new item worked. As such it's a bit of a hard one to recommend - it's by no means a terrible puzzle game, but it's both pricey and infuriatingly obtuse at times.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U