One of the promises of the next generation of video games has been a departure from the grimdark gray color scheme that has seemed to permeate a good majority of the industry since Gears of War premiered way back in 2006. Titles like Sunset Overdrive and Titanfall have reminded gamers that there is a gloriously varied color palette out there. The story told in The Last Tinker: City of Colors seems to coincidentally mirror this emerging trend. The Last Tinker is a fully featured platformer set in a beautiful fantasy world with stunning graphics and CG characters that could easily be on Nickelodeon instead of fully controllable with a gamepad. It seems to be geared for kids, but N64 era fans of all ages will find something to like the world of Colortown.
The Last Tinker: City of Colors centers on Koru, the titular last Tinker. Tinkers are beings that can alter colors around them and bring back to areas infected by The Bleakness, an army of white blobs aiming to cover the world in shades of gray. The Bleakness seeks to take advantage of three color coordinated districts which have grown apart over the years and are on the verge of cutting ties from each other due to their differences. Koru reawakens ancient color spirits, takes advantage of their powers, and parkours across buildings and octopus tentacles in order to bring his world back to a place full of colorful harmony instead of angry discourse.
The main gameplay of The Last Tinker is reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed series. Jumping from place to place is automatic, with the only difficulty coming from finding the quickest path from one point to the next. The combat is equally simple, consisting of a single attack button and a rolling dodge to get out of the way of danger. It’s easy to overwhelm groups of opponents, as everyone winds up their punches rather slowly. This all makes the whole game feel rather breezy to play through, with the only difficulties coming with poorly designed stealth sections and brief moments of confusion on where to jump next.
However, The Last Tinker is more than just a platformer; it has a message to impart about accepting differences in society and it goes about it in a smart and inclusive way, which is reminiscent of the subtle environmental messages that permeated through the original Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy. The characters from other districts are inflicted with either anger, depression, or fear towards those around them who are strange and different, but their emotions can be subdued and brought back to normal levels. The Bleakness isn’t a character so much as it is a corrupting force, and your rivals from the other districts eventually come to see the error of their ways as you fight against the corruption. Sure, you can’t fight racism by punching white blobs in the real world, but its an excellent metaphor that kids will benefit from seeing in action.
To me, the most notable thing about The Last Tinker is its graphical style. This is the first time in my 20-something-years of gaming that I’ve actually felt like I was jumping around inside an animated world. Character designs are all over the place, but everything gels nicely, and it’s satisfying to see the little touches that makes it make sense that a 12-foot-tall giant lives with creatures a fourth of his size. The blast of colors from every direction combined with the abundance of CG on television nowadays make me recall my years of watching Saturday morning cartoons, as well as playing Spyro the Dragon in the afternoons.
This feeling is intensified by the game’s excellent soundtrack, which switches effortlessly between jaunty exploration tunes on the guitar and more traditional fight music. Dialogue between characters is handled with cardboard cutout speech balloons, which lets the game avoid the pitfall of horrible voice acting. Instead, it allows you to read through flavorful dialogue from villagers as you pass through town without slowing down on the way to the next level. This game is probably way too easy, but the production values will bring you through even when the moment to moment gameplay isn’t engaging you directly.
The Last Tinker: City of Colors is a great showcase for how far the Unity engine has come in just a handful of years, which makes sense considering it’s being put out by Unity’s new publishing arm. The Last Tinker could have easily come out at full retail just two generations ago and no one would have batted an eye It has the same quirky charm as the N64 era platformer it takes its inspirations from, and while it is held back by its simplistic gameplay, it’s still worth a look for its exquisite visuals and sound design. In a time when shooters are slowly but surely going out of favor and everyone is waiting for the next big innovation, now seems like the perfect time to reflect on old genres. If you’re a kid raised on Minecraft or an aging college grad yearning to relive Rare’s greatest hits, go take a spin through Colortown and enjoy. If that’s not you, at least take The Last Tinker as an example that The Bleakness brought on by Gears of War and its clones is slowly receding and game designers are allowed to use colors other than gray this generation.