The bold, wordless intro to Two Tribes’ eShop adventure doesn’t let go of your hand, because it never held it in the first place. It’s a minimalist master class, dropping you into its world with nothing but a pair of commands. You’re invited to press A to whistle and B to stomp, and then to discover for yourself how they affect both the environments and the creatures that inhabit them. Tutorials? Don’t be so vulgar.
And how thrilling it is to explore a world without a jabbering tour guide. On the rare occasions you’re given instruction, it’s through a drawing on a sign or a highlight on a map, but the responsibility of figuring out the route is always yours. The only other help comes via small birds that peep out a combination of long and short notes: once learned, these songs can be used to call down an avian ally to sweep you back to the map screen, locate golden collectibles or even take snaps of enemies and landmarks in an engaging photographic aside. A fourth tune resets the current puzzle, a quick get-out that takes you back to the most recent checkpoint. You’ll use this often: it’s easy to get into positions where environmental conundrums are unsolvable, and the trial-and-error nature of their construction will see you make several mistakes before working things out.
Early confusion gives way to excitement, and once you accept that getting stuck is part of the plan then its riddles become intoxicating. There’s a palpable sense of discovery and progression, and things get surprisingly challenging surprisingly fast. Two Tribes frequently reuses the same ingredients, but in increasingly complex arrangements that require not just brainpower but thoughtful forward planning and smart timing.
Each animal has multiple roles: scuttling crabs are sentient platforms one minute and enemy crushers the next, piled up to protect or rearranged to divert pyroclastic flow. Larger birds need to be attracted on some occasions and distracted in others. Fireflies lose their glow when they hit water but sometimes you’ll need to douse their flame to keep them alive. As your understanding of the world deepens, the faint lines of a narrative are teased out, and the complex, layered areas become familiar. It offers the breezy charm of a Mario game in its visuals, but its systems and structure are pure Metroid.
Sadly, after half a dozen hours the spell begins to break. Puzzles grow steadily more elaborate: not a problem in itself, but Two Tribes makes particularly exacting demands of its players. Too often you’re reduced to inelegant lateral shuffling as you manoeuvre the pieces of the puzzle into position, left unsure whether you’re doing the right thing in the wrong way or you’ve missed a crucial ingredient – or, indeed, whether the solution really is that awkward to execute. Toki Tori 2 deserves praise for asking its players to take a leap of faith; it’s just a pity it’s not always prepared to follow them over.
TokiTori 2 is available on PC and Wii U’s eShop. We reviewed the Wii U version.