Saturday, April 11, 2015

VGR Tomba!/Tombi!

The kind of game nobody expected to see released on such a 3D-oriented 32-bit system - a fun 2.5D sidescrolling action/adventure platformer!

Easily my personal all-time favorite title of the entire Playstation library, no kiddin'!

VGR: Tomba! also known as Tombi! in Europe and Ore! Tomba ("Me! Tomba") in Japan
From Whoopee Camp/SCEA (NTSC)/SCEE (Pal)
Played on Playstation
Also available on /

Type Sidescroller adventure/action-RPG/platformer
Year 1997/98

Developed by the small independent Japanese studio Whoopee Camp, founded in 1997, Tomba! (or Tombi! as I'm used to call it) is a very different type of sidescroller game developed exclusively for the original Sony Playstation.

Actually, it's the kind of game you would usually expect to see on a system like the Sega Saturn. In fact it was the exact opposite of what Sony was trying to sell at the time. It is a known fact Sony was trying to push as much modern 3-dimensional action games as possibles to establish their new PSX console in a market heavily dominated by Nintendo coming off a successful 16-bit era.

But you see, Tomba! wasn't very heavy on action. It was mostly played on a 2-dimensional plan with very little 3D effects pushed forward unlike similar titles like Klonoa or Pandemonium, and used 2D sprites for most part of the game. And it was a fun comedic all-ages style game while the big sellers were more serious games like Doom, Final Fantadsy VII and Tekken.

It was simply completely different from what the core audience was expecting on the system. It had more in common with the Zelda series for its fetching quests and exploration and backtracking in this huge expansive world similar to a Metroidvania title. And visually the closest other game I can think of which had a similar look, visuals and tone to it is probably the very underrated Sega Saturn title Astal. A sort of cartoony action-RPG, like a Zelda II done right.

The game opens with a very charming cute anime-style cutscene that tells you everything you need to know.

Tomba is a young pink-haired savage kid. His name was probably changed to "Tombi" in Europe because of how close it sounded to a couple French ("falling") and Italian ("grave") words.

Tomba lives in this set of small islands. He lost his grandpa a while ago, and the only reminder he still had was this old gold bracelet. One day a bunch of pigs stole it and that's the occasion he took to discover the outside world. Along the way he would encounter several inhabitants of these various regions and come to their help along facing this army of pigs taking over the entire place...

You see, one day 7 Evil Pigs with magical powers arrived in these islands. Each with their own twisted powers, they put a curse throughout the surroundings. They sent these pig henchmen to collect all the gold they need to power their magic.

The objective in this game is to locate each Evil Pig and defeat him or her in his realm to help the locals.

Tomba will try to help everyone he meets in these different villages, including this monkey Charles stuck in a tree near his home or get the help from these old mystic wise men.

The story takes several cues from the classical tale Journey to the West - both the original Chinese novel and Akira Toriyama's manga Dragon Ball actually. You can even see a bit of the original kid Son Goku from the beginning of DB in Tomba.

Tomba! plays on a "sidescrolling" 2D plan, with branching-out paths on a 3-dimensional plan you can find from time to time. Usually you find these alternate paths by jumping into a different plan be it climbing vertical or in the foreground and the background.

At start of the game Tomba can only attack his enemies by jumping on their face. You can also do that to grab objects or open treasure chests, etc. It only works on the most basic pig foes.

Tomba can also use his boomerang, you will obtain all kinds of upgrades and new weapons through the adventure. Each new bosses you find hidden in each region requiring a new strategy.

The more you progress the more paths will open up to you and the world will expand and get bigger. It's a huge world where you will have to backtrack back and forth quite a lot to help and solve all the problems you encounter.

There's about 130 "events" or missions to discover and most are optional to complete the game.

The game feels pretty close to your traditional Zelda formula, it's an action-RPG game with adventure elements. As you the game progresses Tomba will clean all the forests, caves and villages from the curses put by the Evil Pigs.

Tomba! was imagined by Tokuro Fujiwara. The creator of Ghosts 'n Goblins at Capcom (who also went on producing several Mega Man games and would later work on a completely different kind of game, the cult PS2 survival horror Extermination).

For Whoopee Camp, formed by various ex-employees from Capcom and SNK, it was their first game. It was also the first PSX game to take advantage of the DualShock feature.

It's a really fun and unique game. The characters are pretty funny, all having their own unique animations and patterns. A lot of attention specially went into the various hilarious little details. They put so much effort into every single aspect of the world Tomba inhabits.

The dialogues are pretty funny and didn't suffered too much through the translation from Japanese, unlike several of other contemporary games.

Such a lovely game! It simply looks gorgeous! For me it's easily one of the best looking game on the system, considering it was a time everyone was mostly concerned with producing shiny "new" 3D graphics.

Tomba! is a very fun unique and creative games. 

Blending elements of RPG and platformer. 

The game is full of allusions to obscure Japanese mythology, if you get those. But otherwise the game is just as great and imaginative and it's pretty much accessible to anyone. 

The overworld feels huge and open. The quests are numerous, pretty simple and logical (aside from a few couple odd ones, but even so the conclusions are easy to come by elimination).

The world of Tomba! is inspired by old school animes, specifically by Akira Toriyama's early works such as Dr. Slump. Even the tone and the artstyle are quite reminiscent of Toriyama. 

Such lovely graphics. Great character expressions. 

The only real complaint I can have with the game is the slight unfinished "rushed" feel you get on some later parts of the game, nothing much really to detract from the overall experience, mind you. But there's a huge gap in the journal of the events, nothing you will miss but just a few pages of tasks that are impossible to get since they're simply missing from the actual finishing game. No doubt cut content (the map even alludes to an entire village cut from the build of the game).

The music composed by Harumi Fujita is simply outstanding, very reminiscent of old catchy tunes from 16-bit days, but thanks to the CD support they rely on all kinds of instruments along digital samples. They can get a bit funky at times, great themes for most parts of the world through the game. 

The game doesn't use any actual voices, apart from Tomba's "Link style" odd screams here and there. Although a couple of animated cutscenes feature the voice acting for the old men telling the tales how the pigs came to these islands.

The game also features an animated opening introduction. While the Japanese version features a song, "Paradise" by Tokyo Q Channel (and the American release an instrumental version of this song), the European version instead received "No Sweat!", a catchy rock tune performed by the CBBC band North & South.

Tomba is not that difficult a game, but it does take quite some time since it's a fairly long adventure. Some of the sidequests require some thinking to solve, but they're never that complicated and always sort of logical. You always know what the characters require of you, there's no complicated riddles to solve or hidden meaning to what they're looking for.

Overall, Tomba! is such a fun game! Without a doubt my all-time favorite PSX game.

The game looks absolutely adorable, it's a very fun and memorable experience! Not a lot people are familiar with it since so many people missed it back then. They didn't produce many copies of it and it's quite expansive if you look for original copies of the game in second hand markets. Although it's finally available on the PS Network these days. It's wasn't heavily marketed due to much bigger titles coming out on the system at the same time, this little gem deserve some more attention if you ask me.

A must play, an Highly Recommended fun game!

I played through Tomba! (or more precisely, Tombi!) so many times, it's a classic of mine! It even ruined one of my PSX memory card due to so many times I saved copies of it while I played and replayed this game.

If I had to pick only one favorite game on Sony's original 32-bit system it would be this one, Tomba! This is definitively the best game for the console or at least one of my must plays of the original PSX for me. It doesnt feel and look nothing like any other Playstation game, as far to say it seems like a Sega Saturn game for me.

Whoopee Camp would only survive to make a second Tomba! episode, also released on the PSX in 1999. Despite a great reception for both titles at the time, they would both sell poorly, neither making it to Platinum. Most of the staff including model and sound artists, programmers, writers and composers would split and later found Deep Space to develop Extermination, a PS2 launch title. Due to a similar fate, that second studio would go shut down, only to form the much more successful Access Games studio (which I imagine still retain rights for the series..?).
I give it:
3 / 3 Bruces!


  1. Spot on review. I really have nothing to add. It's one of the most underrated games on the PS1, and it's also one of the hardest games to find a physical copy of these days, especially the PAL version. Be sure to cherish it lovingly. Apparently this game was only produce it very limited quantities, which is also the reason it never really sold well.

    I had only ever played the demo of this game way back when I just got my PS1 in 1997, and really liked it, but never got to buy it due to the game being near impossible to find. However this game is now also available on the PlayStation Store.
    Ever since then the though of one day playing this game had lingered in the back of my had, so recently I decided to buy it and now I'm playing it with my son in a Let's Play series, so he'll get a chance to experience this gem as well:

    So far it's living up to all my expectations, and even though this game is 18 years old, it has aged really well. In hindsight, it's also easy to see how it has served as an inspiration to many modern platforming games like LittleBigPlanet.

    Anyway, nice review. Keep it up!

    1. I didn't knew it was so rare to find!
      Actually I did something pretty stupid with it, when I was younger. I combined both Tombi 1 and 2's boxes. I guess you'll understand that more clearly when I'll post the Tombi 2 review!

      To be honest - I'm not a big fan of "Let's plays". Walkthrough is fine by me, but I can't watch other people talk over gameplay footage, that's like having someone commenting during a film for me.
      Not for me-
      But, sure, I can keep your link above in case someone wanna check it out.

      I think some recent games aged a lot more than those old school sidescrollers. I wouldn't be able to go back to the Mass Effect series, way too much stuff to think about/do. But Tombi? Sure! I'll replay that any time!

      Thanks mate!

  2. Looking forward to the Tombi! 2 review. :-) Never played that one yet, but I'll certainly play it when I'm done with Tombi!.

    Personally I find Let's Plays more watchable because unlike movies, games aren't designed to be just watched. When just watching a plain Walkthrough there are a lot of boring moments, even if the player is actively platforming or hacking and slashing, there is no involvement for the watcher whatsoever.

    Besides that, when you're sitting next to a friend playing a game, it's very unlikely you're both going to remain quiet during the whole session.
    Nevertheless, I try to stay quiet during important cutscenes and story moments. That's also why I'd never do a Let's Play of a very story driven game like Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy VII... So I understand your point. If I were to watch a game on YouTube solely to follow the story I wouldn't want people talking through it either.
    Either way, thanks for keeping the link!

    And indeed, recent games, mostly those that depend on one or two gimmicks but otherwise have pretty standard gameplay, tend to instantly age when a new game in the genre comes out that actually evolves the core gameplay. Like how most of the FPS shooters instantly became old fashioned after Halo came out. (think automatic life regeneration and the way weapons are handled)

  3. Hello.
    Nice article.
    The drawing of the purified Dwarf Forest is actually the Masakari Jungle purified.