Nostalgia Tripping is a column in which Dan Tallarico explores his collection of retro games to see how well they hold up. You can expect heartbreak, childhood flashbacks and a ton of SNES games. Want to yell at him about old games? Find him on Twitter.
Tomba was one of the first games from Japan I didn’t quite understand. The pink haired hero had a weird obsession with pigs, and hybrid platformer-action-RPG was too ahead of its time for my brain to comprehend. I was just getting hooked on Froot Loops at the time – give me a break. My introduction to Tomba! was in a demo of some kind. I don’t know how I got my hands on it. Maybe I bought a magazine? Or did it come to me randomly in the mail? It wasn’t important. I loaded the disc, loaded up Tomba! and was lost in translation. The pink hair. The pigs, the ability to just grab things. It was a clone of Mario that came out of the oven a bit too early. So my young, precious mind thought.
Tomba! would haunt my adventures for years. I’d walk down game aisles at vintage stores and find the Tomba! disc priced at a premium. “Why?” I’d scream. I scoffed at this game. It was branded as a cult classic despite its downfall of… of… well, maybe I didn’t have a good reason to dislike Tomba!
Playing it Now
Tomba! is more than the sum of its parts. And those parts are cobbled together by a frantic hand hoping that some part of Tomba! makes sense to whomever is playing it. I was right when I brushed this game off as a youngster; there was no way I was ready to grasp or understand the point of Tomba! until its recent release on the PlayStation Network.
I was excited to boot up Tomba! after huffing the fumes of the hype train. Everyone was talking about the majestic Tomba beast that could hop on enemies, slaughter pigs, and brought innovation and life to the age-old platformer formula. So when the game begins and I’m charged with opening a mailbox to unleash a tornado to blow away some fog, I don’t know if it’s living up to the expectations or not.
Fever dream is the best way to describe this game. A pink haired hero has to battle seven evil pigs using the power of a pig bag. While there’s a possibility that the story is second hand, there’s a part of me that’s jealous someone other than me had the opportunity to pen a script about pigs, dwarves, and a world in turmoil.
Platforming is great, if a bit floaty, but the pink haired Tomba gracefully grabs onto most objects in the foreground and scatters around the level with ease. It’s what you’d expect from a PlayStation-era platformer, a bit rough around the edges with odd hit-boxes thanks to its polygons, but it gets the job done. I find it hard to believe anyone is playing Tomba! for the platforming in 2012.
When you play Tomba! you do it for the reason I kept playing it: the unlimited number of quests that drive exploration forward. Nearly every NPC you talk to hints at a possible objective or triggers a quest line. Odd cubes pop onto the screen with the quest title, descriptive titles such as:
- A Hungry Monkey
- Beginner’s Dwarf Language
- Something’s Cookin’?
- The Greatest Smile!
- A Stormy Pig Bag
The game has more dialogue than every Mario game slabbed together. While 90% of it serves no purpose, it adds some levity and humor to the world. It’s not to be ignored – like the platforming elements the dialogue is something to be experienced. It’s quirky, off-beat, and reminds you that you’re playing Tomba! for fun, not as a chore your mom assigned to you.
And that’s just what makes Tomba! so great. Despite all the objectives, missions, enemies, and RPG elements crammed into this game, it all meshes together. In theory, this is a sinking ship weighed down by excess cargo, but in practice Tomba! is a nimble jet ski that delivers a parcel of charm.
I’m on the Tomba! train and I’m really excited to finish up this game. I’m not exactly sure how the RPG elements work (if at all), but I hope to find out. Looking back it’s great to see this game at such a premium in second-hand stores. Knowing there are gamers out there willing to invest in a game for its polish, charm, and atmosphere restores some faith in the industry. Well, unless people are scrambling for this game because the current state of affairs is so lackluster.