The amount of effort required to make a PC game work properly shouldn’t go beyond resolution settings and keybinds. As I’ve possibly mentioned in some previous reviews, if you’re not comfortable while playing the game, it feels more like a chore.
Despite the rather negative opening, “Tobe’s Vertical Adventure” from Secret Base doesn’t exactly cripple the experience with technical issues, but it contains some quite annoying moments typical of console ports. The game worked without much trouble in windowed mode, and I wasn’t about to delude myself into playing it effectively on the keyboard (although it’s possible). Luckily, the gamepad setup also went well. Sadly, a lot of frustration came about when I tried to effectively switch to fullscreen mode. I managed to ruin my monitor’s default hardware resolution while setting it up (mostly due to my own stupidity and a fair dose of rotten luck). As of writing this, it is highly recommended you play the game windowed, as fullscreen stretches and crops the game to unplayable levels.
But when Tobe’s Vertical Adventure worked, it was alright fun. You play as either Tobe, the cool gamer/otaku, or Nana, his materialistic girlfriend. The difference between the two is that Tobe can run up walls, while Nana can double-jump. The point of the game is to go through various temples, get the treasure, save the fluffy little animals and then go to the next temple, all in hope of getting the ultimate treasure. Each level contains various hurdles and pitfalls which you must avoid until you get to the bottom, where you open a big chest. After that, the whole level starts to collapse and you have a set amount of time to escape back to the start of the stage. The trick is that when everything starts collapsing, new routes become available, so treasure and animals which you couldn’t reach before are now within your grasp.
Both characters have access to two tools: ropes and balloons. The ropes are thrown at the ceiling, one square in front of you, while the balloons are used to slow down your fall. My major qualm with both of these power-ups is that they don’t seem necessary at all. There are only a handful of moments where you actually need the rope, and even then, it’s only to grab an animal or a small chest. The balloons are mostly an “Oh shi-” button if you make a bad jump, but are also rarely needed thanks to the wall slide both characters can execute. And if you play as Nana, the double-jump is enough to save you from a long fall.
At its core, though, the game is a speedrun title. You are timed for your escape and it does encourage you to find the optimal route. All the levels are fluid and won’t keep you stuck in one place for too long. Even the power-ups are slightly to the side, rather than in some convoluted chambers. The downside to this is that it feels rather short. With four worlds – four levels each, I would have rather the developers scrapped Nana and local Co-op and made one new world instead. The problem with Nana and the multiplayer is that the levels were clearly made with Tobe’s abilities in mind. Nana’s double jump trivializes a good deal of the level design, while Co-op doesn’t really make one feel like they’re playing together (kind of like “Co-op” in Sonic 2). The lack of special levels for each variant doesn’t motivate a person all that much to go beyond the first playthrough.
What I can praise without any doubts are the aesthetics of the game. The 16-bit graphics are very smooth, with each object being clearly discernible. The music is also quite excellent, and I admit, the way you unlock the official OST of the game made me chuckle in a good way. I’m not going to spoil it, but I wish more developers would do stuff like that.
What confuses me a bit is that the game seems to have some heavy references and homages to the Mega Drive/Genesis system, while the atmosphere of the game reminds me much more of the Game Boy library. Tobe’s Vertical Adventure would be much more at home on a handheld or smartphone. The levels seem better suited for short bursts and on-the-go gameplay. As its current price is 3,99€, I would recommend it if old-school platformers are your thing and you don’t mind the length of the game. Keep in mind that the replay value is pretty low unless you like achievement hunting. If you like old-school platformers, but aren’t sure of buying it full price, I’d definitely suggest you get it when it’s on sale.
Developer: Secret Base
Time: 2 hours
Gripes: Doesn’t scale well in fullscreen, the game doesn’t take advantage of its gameplay elements.
Get it for the: Retro goodness, short burst gameplay.
Full Disclosure: Press X or Die received a review code from the developers. The game was played to completion with both characters, while Co-op mode was played halfway through.