Done correctly, minimalist game design works extremely well at immersing the player in the game and enhancing their sense of accomplishment. Perhaps the genre that best exemplifies the benefits of minimalist design is puzzle platformer. In that respect, Toki Tori 2 shines as an example of how to do it correctly.
Two Tribes went into development of Toki Tori 2 looking to simplify the gameplay without simplifying the puzzles. As a result of this goal, gameplay consists of moving left to right, up and down ladders, stomping on the ground and chirping. Using these tools, you will interact with the various creatures that you encounter to make your way past the puzzles in your way throughout the world. Despite the simplicity of the gameplay options at your disposal, the puzzles get increasingly more complex and fiendishly difficult at times.
Many creatures will react to both your stomping and chirping, though in different ways. For instance, the hermit crabs will crawl toward you when they hear a chirp, but run away when they feel a stomp. Additionally, the chirps can be either long or short, and as a result, simple song patterns can be made that will do different things for you, such as pointing you toward your goal, resetting the level and moving your character back to the last checkpoint you triggered (these are spread liberally throughout each level), or even summon a bird with a camera to photograph creatures for a photo album.
In the spirit of minimalist design, there are no words, no tutorial and no UI overlay. Everything is learned organically, as you explore and slowly discover the different ways that the many creatures and environmental features interact with each other and you. Whether you are growing tall grass with water, using water to douse the lights of fireflies or feeding bugs to frogs so that they’ll spit a bubble at you, it’s always a surprise when you first discover something, then excitement when you realize how to use that interaction to advance in the game.
The most difficult parts of a puzzle platformer to get right are the difficulty and the repetition of solutions. Two Tribes seems to have nailed both of them with Toki Tori 2. The difficulty varies, though it never jumps too far to figure out. You may need to sit back and think for a few moments occasionally, but rarely is it too hard. As for repetition, there are a few basic puzzles for getting up tall steps that are repeated throughout, but most more complex situations are either unique or only repeated a couple times.
Toki Tori 2 looks very much at home on the Wii U, with detailed and vibrant art that really brings the world to life. Whether exploring dark caves or grassy meadows, the visuals are beautiful.
It’s a very slow-paced game, and since basically all the ‘action’ in Toki Tori 2 ends with your death (drowning, crushing, electrocution, pecking, etc), it certainly isn’t a game that everyone will enjoy. It is a game that most people should give a try though. You just might find yourself drawn into its beautiful, charming and well-crafted world.
Pros: simple gameplay used for complex puzzles, diverse puzzles, good learning curve
Cons: a little too slow-paced occasionally