Pretty in pink.
What can you say about a video game that has a pink-haired anime jungle boy as its protagonist, and features a battle against large evil pigs as its piece de resistance? Well, you could say the pink hair represents the character's need for rebellion from society's limitations, the pigs are symbols for oppressive forms of justice, and all of this political commentary is packaged deceptively into a family oriented box - but that's not my point.
Rather, you could say it's a light-hearted romp through imaginative worlds, with action, adventure, and RPG elements all thrown together. And yes, Tomba 2: The Evil Swine Return is all of those things. It adds to the original with improved graphics and extended gameplay. But those who couldn't get into the slightly awkward gameplay of the original will find playing this sequel as pointless as flying through the arctic winter in a home-fashioned squirrel suit.
In Tomba 2 our favorite jungle rebel is back on the job. It seems those nasty pigs are up to their tricks again, and the only one who can stop them is our favorite hammer-carrying, four-foot savage. This time around Tomba's lady friend, Tabby, has been kidnapped by the swine, and it's up to Tomba (the video game answer to Charles Bronson) to rescue her. Along with his new flying bug pal (who acts as Tomba's personal speaker), Tomba sets out to rescue his gal and stamp out the pigs once and for all.
Tomba 2's gameplay is relatively unchanged from the original. The game still features 2-D gameplay that takes place on various fields. For those who never played the original, here's how it goes: Tomba moves on linear paths until he reaches a spot where a flashing arrow appears. At this point Tomba can move in either direction the arrow points. If he moves to another pathway, the perspective may change and make it appear that Tomba is walking in 3-D, but the pathway is still linear. About the only time Tomba moves out of the linear is when he swings on vines or slides up and down poles.
Having this gameplay style is both an interesting diversion from standard action games and a nuisance in itself. The originality of the gameplay makes Tomba 2 feel new and refreshing. On the other hand, the interconnected 2-D pathway structure makes moving through the lands and completing tasks take much longer than it should. Paying becomes a chore when you must wait for the arrow to appear, and it becomes downright frustrating when you accidentally hit the wrong arrow and must wait for Tomba to move.
The basic gameplay in Tomba 2 is relatively simple. You move around, destroy pigs, and try to successfully advance through the lands. The bulk of the challenge in the game is in completing the more than 130 mini quests that arise. These include anything from retrieving a fishing hook for a fisherman to helping Santa find his giant sack (ho ho ho, get your minds out of the gutters, readers). In order to complete the quests, you must talk to various people and go searching.
In this sense, Tomba 2 (like its predecessor) is more of a role-playing game than an action game. Most tasks require reasoning rather than quick reflexes and timing. For the most part, completing the quests is interesting. However, some of the more minor quests are extremely time-consuming and cramp the pacing of the adventure.
The best addition to Tomba 2 is the ability to change suits. In the first game, you could merely change pants, but in Tomba 2, you progressively earn performance-enhancing clothes. There are the bird clothes which make Tomba glide, the flying squirrel clothes which let Tomba fly, and even the undercover pig suit which lets Tomba infiltrate the enemy's territory. This feature gives Tomba 2 more personality, and breaks the monotony of searching through the lands.
The graphics in Tomba 2 represent the best in Playstation gaming. Each land is wonderfully rendered with Saturday Morning cartoon colorfulness and vivid detail. Compared to the original, Tomba 2 has slightly better rendering and contains more 3-D rendered objects. On the downside, being able to complete quests requires that you see various clues, and sometimes the camera angle makes it difficult to see them. Often this means that you'll spend a lot of time on a quest that would be quick and easy had the camera been better.
In the audio department, characters now speak. The quality of the voice acting is surprising, actually enhancing the experience of the adventure. However, music is still fairly generic, but at least it doesn't distract.
Tomba 2's main weakness lies in the fact that it's more of an addition to the first game than a true sequel. Gameplay hasn't been tweaked enough to make the game feel distinct, and the same gameplay problems (such as simple, repetitive bosses) that plagued the first game are still present in this one. And something makes me believe that the whole game would have been a lot simpler and more enjoyable if it had been designed for true 3-D movement. Perhaps this is the charm of both Tombas, but I didn't see it.
Fans of the original will jump on Tomba 2: The Evil Swine Return like nasty pigs on a diabolical scheme. Others may not be so excited. Whether you love him or hate him, you have to agree that Tomba is a pretty big badass for a pink-haired fellow with a goggle-eyed flying bug for a best friend.