Friday, May 16, 2014

VGR Tonic Trouble

Here's Ubisoft first attempt at a 3D latformer in the late 1990s.

Perhaps one of Michel Ancel's most underrated titles.

Michel Ancel's cartoony hero gets reviewed Eyz-style:

VGR: Tonic Trouble 
From Ubisoft Montréal/Ubisoft Entertainment
Played on PC
Also available on N64 & Game Boy Color

Type 3D platformer
Year 1999

While Ubisoft Entertainment Software was planning to develop a Rayman 2, which was taking so much time the game diverged greatly over its long production, Michel Ancel and his crew at Ubisoft Montréal decide to offer themselves a break from the project by letting loose in a little side project that ended taking all their resources.

This little "side" game ended up a crucial point for the Rayman franchise. This game was "Tonic Trouble".

Tonic Trouble can be considered a prototype for what would become Rayman 2: The Great Escape.

Being Ubisoft first true 3-dimensional platformer Tonic Trouble was developed by huge team of 60 "developers" alone (counting animators, designs and artists). Most of the time and budget was spent on building the actual game engine, which took over nearly 18 months.

If you think that was some time badly spent, think again. Since this very same work would serve to develop and debug the 3D engine that would be used for the later Rayman 2 and Rayman 3 games!

If anything, Tonic Trouble was a test to port a classic 2D sidescrolling platformer into a 3D world-space.

What about the game itself?

Ed was just a simple space janitor.

He was maybe a bit clumsy. One day, working aboard the spaceship The Albatross, Ed started drinking some can of "tonic" soda. He "accidentally" dropped it on a nearby planet...

The can started mutating the entire environment!

Finding himself in trouble, he was given the order to drop by and clean up his entire mess, and retrieve the soda can back!

But you see, there was a problem... The entire local vegetations turned into dangerous killer mutant vegetables! And the can is now in the hands of a terrible local inhabitan, the Viking Grogh the Hellish- now calling himself the "Master of Earth"!

There, Ed will find some help along his mission in the form of a professor, "The Doc", and his daughter Suzy, as well as Agenty XYZ here to provide some hints.

First thing first, Ed has to locate 6 different type of items to help the professor clean the planet....

The world of Tonic Trouble seems to slightly overlap with the Rayman franchise. As our limbless hero will meat some faces the player would later see in Rayman 2 (a salesman in TT is later seen in R2 selling an important plot device to the villain Razorbeard, and other minor characters crossovers from Rayman such as Rayman himself appearing in a cameo during the end credits). In fact, the same "General" that gives Ed his mission is the one to help Rayman at end of Rayman 2!

The game was based on an original concept imagined by Michel Ancel and his team at Ubisoft Montréal to test a true 3D engine.

Tonic Trouble started first before the 3-D iteration of Rayman 2 (it started as a 2D follow-up to the original), but then Rayman 2 itself was launched during TT's production.

Which means they both share mostly the same overall engine (albeit TT features a more limited archaic version of said engine). I've noticed there's some confusion regarding the release of both games, as the PC version of Tonic Trouble was released after Rayman 2's release, but it's mostly the same overall game as the Nintendo 64 one. Those additional months didn't change anything really, in fact the PC version even contains a trailer for Rayman 2 with a "Coming Soon" at the end.

Tonic Trouble is a platformer game with a big emphasis on exploration. You could say, in the same style of Rayman 1 only 3D.

It's another one of those Collect-A-ton that were really popular at the time. They used that kind of gameplay formula as basis to better represent how you could bring the same experience to a 3-D environment.

And like its ancestor, it the same formula as the original Rayman. You start off defenseless but obtain more and more new power-ups through the game.

The main objective at first is to retrieve those 6 type of objects across levels you are free to pick and chose however you want. Granted, there's a recommended order the characters will want to send you off to.

There is some puzzle solving.

The game features this huge free-roaming map of "Southern Plains" working as the HUB map to select other levels.

Finally, the main true objective to get the final stage is to collect as well these 120 antidotes.

You will get through all the usual platform tropes, from caves to jungles, snowy mountain tops to lava pits. All the way facing this gigantic vegetable army!

A lot of people who played Tonic Trouble on PC at the time actually played a beta version of the game! The one that was offered with new computers and so-called "Tonic Trouble: Special Edition". This early version ended up very different from the actual final release. In fact it contained all different level designs, different music and even different voice actors! The controls were also slightly different as well, more tank-like.

Tonic Trouble is a strange little title. On one hand it seems like a wacky forgettable little random title. On another, it greatly helped Ubisoft "get Rayman 2 right".

There's some silly forced product placement. Ed gets his SuperEd temporary super-form from eating some popcorn... from Nestle's Crunch vending machines!? (absent in the "Special Edition")

The game features a soundtrack composed by Éric Chevalier as usual, who also composed for Rayman. It's fun and experimental with bagpipes and guitars along a synthesizer. Ed's own cue "theme" is actually "Rayman's theme" from Rayman 2 played in reverse! 

Sadly, Tonic Trouble never did as well as any of the Rayman games. I doubt we will be ever seeing him again... Too bad. I kinda liked his design and his attitude.

Overall, Tonic Trouble is a good little game.

Very much simple and forgettable. Despite the dantesque task of collecting a ton of stuff to reach the ending, at the end of the say the game features very little levels. 

Its colorful, cartoony and fun. And you can almost see some true little gems of gameplay that would explode in all directions in the later Rayman 2 title.

Be it on PC or Nintendo 64, it's almost the exact same game, virtually. Except the slightly higher resolution on PC. The only real different is between the N64/PC and the "Special Edition" on PC, which was an early build released to the public.

Note that there's also an unrelated companion sidescroller title that was released on Game Boy Color at the time.

It's probably Michel Ancel's weakest entry in his overall career, but a necessary step to build towards greated more ambitious games.

I give it:
2 / 3 Bruces!

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