Considering the anemic status of the PSP's library at the moment, it pains me to see UMDs with potential that end up being mediocre, one right after another. Every time something new hits shelves, I wonder if it's going to be the thing that kickstarts Sony's shiny black portable into being a valid take-along option, but besides Lumines, I'd be hard-pressed to pick a game that has less than a handful of problems and rough edges. A perfect example of this consistent failure to thrive is the all-new intellectual property (IP) from Tecmo, Tokobot.
A third-person action/platformer, Tokobot stars a cutesy anime hero in one of those over-familiar post-apocalyptic civilizations built on the ruins of advanced-yet-warlike progenitors that bombed themselves out of existence. The structure of the action taking place here is also familiar, basically standard gap-jumping, enemy-bopping, puzzle-solving stuff. It's not very original, but the hook is that the hero is assisted by a small group of mechanical tag-alongs, the titular Tokobots.
These 'bots hang around the hero in different formations that can be changed on-the-fly. Basically functioning as sort of an all-purpose power-up, they hold hands and spin around to whack goofy-looking monsters and to provide aerodynamic lift for making long jumps. They also stack single-file to create ladders, or act as grapples letting the hero swing to reach far-off platforms. After collecting the right "special" icon, all the Tokobots can merge to form completely different things like a crane or a floating samurai, complete with sword.
On the surface, Tokobot looks like it has everything required to become a solid entry and something that most starving PSP owners would like to snatch up. However, dig a little deeper and it's easy to see that the developers failed to capitalize on the game's greatest assets— there's just not enough to do with these nifty little automatons.
Frankly speaking, I was surprised to find that for the majority of the adventure the Tokobots are used for little more than jumping or swinging. I mean, there are dozens of platform characters that can do this without a little swarm of subservient helper robots, so it doesn't seem very exciting or interesting to use them for such basic functions.
Between all the chasm-crossing, I kept waiting for interesting or creative challenges that would take advantage of Tokobot's premise to pop up, but they never did. For example, one possible transformation for my tin-can posse was a tank complete with treads and cannons. In my mind, I would have expected a battlefield level full of enemies waiting to be blown to smithereens. Another transformation is the samurai I mentioned earlier. Having access to a giant floating warrior seems like a situation ripe for exploration; perhaps a stylish one-on-one duel or maybe cutting lunchmeat in some kind of wacky minigame. The reality is that I completed the entire adventure without ever using either one of these transformations. Talk about missed opportunities…
The Tokobots can also turn into a catapult to toss bombs (though it's only necessary to do it once) or a crane for some block-puzzle action (used two or three times total), but it's the kind of simple stuff that other character action games throw in as a freebie. None of it is unique or substantial enough to specifically require the robots; it's all been done a thousand times before without them.
Since the Tokobots themselves only give a veneer of unique action, the other elements of the game should have at least been as solid as possible, but the developers don't succeed at this either. The camera control (like most PSP games) is inadequate and subpar— there were many times during play that I was unable to see important things above my character's head because I could not tilt the camera upwards. The controls are very loose, too. Lacking precision and tightness, I found it common to accidentally drop off ledges and to have major struggles navigating areas that require use of the grapple formation. There are other rough spots, but for a game weak in areas key to a platformer's success, Tokobot has more than its share of jumping, swinging, and cheaply dying.
After a few hours with not much happening, the game ends on a rehash note, recycling bosses and making me search through levels I had already completed for a boring series of item-fetches. I think it's probably a good thing that the difficulty level of the game is relatively low since if it had been any higher, I'm not sure whether or not I would have maintained the drive to actually complete it. It's such a flat game that after the credits rolled, I felt like I had just sat around a campfire for six hours waiting for the flames to be lit.
Tokobot might fit the bill has a vaguely competent action game that meets the basic criteria, but it had potential to be much more. It's cute, it's colorful, and it will definitely fill a few hours at the airport or on a train, but I have no doubt that most players will forget it a week later. If more effort had been put into giving the robots interesting and essential functionality along with fixing the camera and such, I could easily imagine this game being a must-have for PSP platform fans. As it is, Tokobot can best be summed up by the phrase "It would have been cool if…"